Francis Bacon News 








Francis Bacon's record-breaking painting arrives in Portland with heightened security



By David Stabler, The Oregonian, Friday, December 20, 2013

Two drivers. GPS tracking. Temperature sensors. 

Shipping the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction from New York to the Portland Art Museum requires a few precautions.

The museum is on highest alert for the next three months as it exhibits Francis Bacon's recording-breaking triptych, Three Studies of Lucian Freud. The three paintings made world headlines last month when they sold in New York for $142.4 million. 

The work, bought by an anonymous collector who lives on the West Coast, goes on view Saturday, Dec. 21 through March 30. While visitors enjoy it – keeping a proscribed 20 inches away – round-the-clock security will keep it safe. Cameras and guards will be on duty 24 hours a day. The museum will add security if larger-than-expected crowds show up.

Despite intense interest in the art world, only one PAM staffer knows the owner's identity. And Bruce Guenther, chief curator, isn't talking. From Portland, the piece goes into to the owner's private collection.

The Portland Art Museum is familiar with handling irreplaceable works. It has previously shown single works by Rembrandt, Titian and Raphael under its "Masterworks/Portland" series.

No one has seen Three Studies of Lucian Freud since 1999. Each panel has a warm, egg-yolk yellow background, and a green, textured foreground. In each, Freud sits on a chair inside a cage or room, right leg crossed over his left knee.

Two drivers transported the panels across the country, ensuring the truck was always on the move and never left alone. The truck had extra suspension and was climate controlled at 70 degrees and 45 percent humidity, the same as the gallery it will sit in.

The paintings travelled in three separate crates, each marked "PROTECT FROM ALL ELEMENTS." Sensors attached to the crates would signal excessive movement or temperature changes. GPS tracked the truck's movement, in case it went off course.

The truck arrived at noon Friday, and the crates were immediately unloaded and moved into a secure space, says Donald Urquhart, who manages the museum's collections. Then, scrutinizers went to work. They examined every centimeter of the paintings, photographing and noting any nicks or scratches, like a rental car.

Just before 3 p.m. Friday, two men wheeled the first two panels on a dolly down a ramp to the underground hallway that serves as an entrance to the museum's modern and contemporary galleries. Guenther, who chose "dried burgundy" for the colour of the backdrop, watched the panels approach with a dozen other museum staffers. Within minutes, the barehanded men had measured, drilled and lifted the middle panel into place. They used a carpenter's level to adjust it.

The second panel was trickier. After they hung it, it sat 1/4-inch too high, so they adjusted the wall bracket and lowered it to the correct height.

Safely installed, the yellow background glowed while Freud's body conveyed movement and impatience.

"I'm thrilled," Guenther said as the men finished hanging the last panel. "This is going to be so wonderful for the city. This is a town that loves figurative art."

Guenther didn't twist arms to land the Bacon triptych, he says. He called the owner soon after the auction, Nov. 11. "This is an interesting notion," the owner said, according to Guenther. "Why do you think we'd want to do that?"

"That was an open door," Guenther said.





     Portland, Oregon - Dec. 20, 2013 - Francis Bacon's Three Studies of Lucian Freud, which sold in November for a record $142.4 million arrived in Portland Friday. 

     The painting was hung shortly after its arrival at the Portland Art Museum where it will remain on loan until March 30.

      Aaron Doyle and Evan Tewinkel, preparators at the museum, helped hang the work. Jamie Francis/The Oregonian




Portland brings the (Francis) Bacon



By Philip Kennicott, The Style Blog, The Washington Post, 17 December, 2013

The New York Times reports a few new details about the mystery buyer: He (apparently not she) is based on the West Coast and is not Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen, according to a spokeswoman for the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation cited by the Times. The painting, which depicts the artist’s friend and fellow painter Lucian Freud, will remain on display at the Portland Museum of Art through March 30.

This is not good news. While it is encouraging that whoever purchased the painting understands the importance of public access to art, the museum shouldn’t be tacitly endorsing the judgments of the art market.  While the work is an important one in Bacon’s career, and is an interesting painting to be sure, the only reason the Portland Art Museum would scramble to arrange its exhibition is because it has also become notorious. Existentially, its status changed when it became the world’s supposedly “most expensive painting.” It is now famous for being expensive, rather like some people are famous for being famous. It is an identity that will, for many visitors, overwhelm whatever expressive value is in the painting itself. Museums should further looking, not gawking.

By celebrating the painting with a specially organized exhibition, the museum aligns itself with the commodification of art and effectively endorses the idea that the price tag is a valid a marker of quality. Museums don’t just house art, they place art on display in such a way that the viewer is compelled to ask a fundamental question: Why am I looking this? Why here, why now, why in this room, next to these other paintings rather than some other room? That process of interrogation is fundamental to the museum experience.

In Portland, we know exactly why we’re looking at this painting, and the interrogation is over before it even begins. That’s a lousy message to send to people who care deeply about art.


       Three Studies of Lucian Freud, a triptych by Francis Bacon of his friend and artist Lucian Freud.

       The 1969 painting by Bacon set a world record for the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction when it sold Tuesday evening Nov. 12, 2013 for $142.4 million




Francis Bacon triptych to go on view in Oregon; buyer remains unknown









The Francis Bacon triptych that recently sold for a record-breaking amount at auction will go on public display at the Portland Art Museum in Oregon starting Saturday.

But the identity of the buyer who shelled out $142.4 million for the work remains a mystery.

“Three Studies of Lucian Freud,” created in 1969, was sold as part of a Christie’s auction in New York in November. The $142.4 million paid for the piece represents a record amount for a work of art sold at auction, breaking the previous record held by Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” of $119.9 million in 2012.



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The Portland Art Museum announced this week that the piece — which depicts three views of artist Lucian Freud — will remain on view through March 30.

After that, the triptych is expected to return to the private collection of its owner.

The buyer remains anonymous to the public, though the Portland museum’s director, Brian Ferriso, appears to have made contact. Ferriso said in a statement that “when the collector agreed to our request to exhibit the triptych, we knew that it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our visitors to see this seminal work.”

In its announcement, the museum acknowledged the support of the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, the charitable organization headed by the Microsoft co-founder. A spokeswoman for the foundation said she doesn’t normally comment on Allen’s personal acquisitions, but added that “we can confirm he doesn’t own that piece of art.”



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The foundation is supporting the museum with a three-year programming grant worth a total of $180,000.

Bruce Guenther, the Portland museum's chief curator, told the New York Times this week that the owner of the piece id from the West Cost.

For many years, the triptych had been separated, with the individual parts sold into private collections. The three pieces were reunited in the 1990s.



       Bidding during the auction for the 1969 painting by Francis Bacon, Three Studies of Lucian Freud in New York on Nov. 12





Friends, soulmates, rivals: the double life

     of Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud



They were the 20th century's Turner and Constable





rancis Bacon and Lucian Freud are likely to go down together in art history. If the link had not already been set in cement, it certainly became so at Christie’s New York last month, when Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969), a three-part portrait of his friend and colleague, went for $142.4 million or a whisker less than £90 million, thus becoming the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction.

Perhaps that was a freakish figure — I suspect Lucian would have thought so — but it remains dizzying fact that a figurative painting, done in London within the past 45 years, and born out of a friendship forged in raffish Soho bars and clubs, should have attained such a value. It helps to put Bacon and Freud at the centre of the late 20th century art scene, not only in Britain, but internationally: the Turner and Constable of their age.

Like those giants of late Georgian painting, Bacon and Freud were contemporaries, equals and in some ways opposites. Bacon was a relatively rapid painter who often used photographs as a point of reference, Freud in his own words could ‘work only very slowly’ and never used photography as a source. There was half a generation between them — Bacon was born in 1909, Freud in 1922. Yet for a long, long time they were close allies against the world. Lucian’s second wife, Caroline Blackwood, laconically noted that she had had dinner with Bacon, ‘nearly every night for more or less the whole of my marriage to Lucian. We also had lunch.’ Lucian himself recalled seeing Bacon at some point virtually every day for a quarter of century; that is, from the mid-1940s to roughly the time when ‘Three Studies of Lucian Freud’ was painted.

Since Bacon was gay, and Freud had remarkable good looks, one might suspect a romantic element in this bond. But Bacon was attracted to older men, a masochist in hopeless pursuit of a suitably dominant partner. According to Lucian, ‘He complained that he spent the whole of his life looking for the roughest, most masculine men that he could find. “And yet I’m always stronger than they are.”’ He meant, Lucian explained, that ‘his will was stronger’.

Freud, on the other hand, was a notoriously avid pursuer of girls. He never detected the slightest hint of an advance on the older man's part. The bond between them was different: artistic and temperamental. When Lucian first encountered him, Bacon must have represented a thrilling example of how to conduct the life of an artist. Though there were other talented painters and sculptors in 1940s Britain, the London art world — in comparison, say, to the Parisian one — was dingy and provincial. Against this background, Bacon was a figure of magnificent flamboyance: painting and living close to the edge, playing for the highest of stakes.

Freud and Bacon were both gamblers, of course. For them roulette and horse-racing had an almost ethical dimension. Lucian once told me that in the 1960s, a decade when his work was out of fashion and hard to sell, gambling helped him. Did he mean it helped him to make money? No, he answered, it helped him not to care too much about money. He remembered one day losing almost everything he had, going home, driving his car to a garage, selling it too, placing the proceeds on a horse, losing that, then going home to paint.

It must, I suggested tentatively, feel good when you win. He answered: ‘It feels pretty good when you lose too.’ Bacon, who was fond of casinos, on occasion quite literally chucked money away. Lucian described a grand private view, at the end of which a Soho drinking buddy had come up to Bacon and asked for the taxi fare home. He imitated the painter, very drunk, staggering about, ‘My dear fellow, of course,’ he said, reaching into his trouser pocket and scattering banknotes like a flock of birds. ‘Francis loved doing that, throwing money about to demonstrate his disdain for it.

In art, they both risked their reputations on the chance that it was still possible to produce figurative paintings fresh, true and exciting. And carried on doing this in an art world in which representational painting was widely thought to be over and out. Abstraction was the path of the future.

Both Bacon and Freud were energetic, even cheery nihilists. The former often spoke about how ‘you can be very optimistic and totally without hope’. They therefore chose to devote almost all their waking hours and efforts to something that was for them, in the last analysis, meaningless. After all, Lucian would say, art is useless: ‘You can’t eat it.’

It was fitting that one evening they bumped into Jean-Paul Sartre at the Gargoyle Club — headquarters of London bohemia before the Colony Room opened, and a place where Bacon happily remembered more drunken rows occurring, sometimes continuing for days, than anywhere he had ever been (Lucian recalled once waking, upside down with his head in the lavatory at the Gargoyle).

One evening when Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir were in the club, they invited Bacon and Freud to their table. According to Bacon, ‘Sartre got up and sat on it waggling his short legs and said, “Who is that good-looking one?”, jabbing his Gauloise at Lucian.’

The critic Herbert Read once called Lucian ‘the Ingres of Existentialism’. In some ways the tag ‘existentialist’ fits both Freud and Bacon, but Sartre’s celebrated formulation ‘hell is other people’ decidedly did not. Bacon was a sociable man in his way, and for Lucian other people were his essential subject matter. To the end of his life, he would alarm other diners in restaurants by fixing them with an intent gaze, raising his eyelids to get more light. It might have seemed intimidating, but actually he was just imagining how well they would make a picture.

Freud’s portrait of Bacon from 1952 is, or was, a masterpiece (it was stolen in 1988 and has never been recovered). Bacon made numerous images of Freud, but they are not his best — at least that was Freud’s opinion. The painting now world-famous for its fabulous price captured little of Lucian apart from his restless impatient energy (the nose seems to belong to George Dyer, Bacon’s lover and obsessive subject at the time).

In the end, Freud and Bacon fell out, a dispute that was probably inevitable given two such characters, and was founded — or reflected — in a lack of admiration for each other’s later work. Lucian thought Bacon’s work of the 1980s ‘ghastly’, and Bacon fully reciprocated. But Freud never lost his admiration for earlier paintings by his friend.

On his bedroom wall there hung ‘Two Figures’ (1953), one of Bacon’s darkest, most powerful pictures. It was adapted from an action shot by the 19th-century photographer Eadweard Muybridge of two naked men wrestling, but Bacon had transposed the action from a bare floor onto a bed floating in black void, so the figures seem to be making love rather than fighting (in Bacon’s life there was little distinction between the two).

Perhaps because of the subject matter, it remained unsold at the end of the exhibition, so Lucian bought it at a reduced price: £80 rather than £100. ‘I’ve been looking at it for a long time now,’ he said (in fact, at that point, for over half a century) ‘and it doesn’t get worse. It really is extraordinary.’

The last time I had lunch with Lucian, a few weeks before he died, he produced the final bon mot I ever heard from him. We were talking about the bohemian London life of the 1940s and 1950s. ‘It was marvellous,’ he reflected, ‘being taken seriously for behaving ridiculously.’ There were absurd touches, certainly, to his life in that era — as when Lucian took a pet hawk around on the Circle Line. But Freud and Bacon were also brave and audacious. Artistically, to an astonishing extent their grand gamble paid off.




                                  Two gamblers: Freud and Bacon photographed by Harry Diamond




Brian Sewell liked Bacon for breakfast





Speaking about his latest book, Sleeping With Dogs, at the Oldie literary lunch yesterday, Brian Sewell mentioned Geordie Greig’s bestselling biography of Lucian Freud, Breakfast with Lucian.

Sewell said that, had he known the financial potential, he might have written his own book about Freud’s great friend and even greater rival, Francis Bacon.

Sewell could indeed have written Breakfast With Francis, as he appears to have had more of them than Greig had with Lucian.

“The most fruitful period of our relationship began when Harrods opened a juice bar. Thither went Francis almost every morning and if our paths crossed I joined him for his breakfast,” he recalled, adding that had he written such a volume some of its contents would have “caused the readers’ ears to turn quite pink”.








The “Visual Shock” of Francis Bacon: an essay in neuroesthetics




In this paper we discuss the work of Francis Bacon in the context of his declared aim of giving a “visual shock.” We explore what this means in terms of brain activity and what insights into the brain's visual perceptive system his work gives. We do so especially with reference to the representation of faces and bodies in the human visual brain. We discuss the evidence that shows that both these categories of stimuli have a very privileged status in visual perception, compared to the perception of other stimuli, including man-made artefacts such as houses, chairs, and cars. We show that viewing stimuli that depart significantly from a normal representation of faces and bodies entails a significant difference in the pattern of brain activation. We argue that Bacon succeeded in delivering his “visual shock” because he subverted the normal neural representation of faces and bodies, without at the same time subverting the representation of man-made artefacts.



Neuroesthetics seeks inspiration and insight from works of art and from debates in the humanities to try to gain some insights, however small, into the workings of the brain. The present article, on the work of the British painter Francis Bacon, is written in the pursuit of that aim. The article does not delve into the artistic merits of Bacon's works, which lies more in the province of art criticism; it does not discuss the artistic influences that shaped Bacon's art, which belongs more properly to art history; nor does it consider, except in a marginal sense, the influence of Bacon's up-bringing and sexual orientation on his art, which would trespass into psycho-analytic studies. Instead, concentrating above all on his artistic output as well as on statements about his work from him and others, we try to ask how what his declared aim, of trying to give “a visual shock,” amounts to in neural terms and what insights into brain organization the resultant work gives.



Bacon, whose first US exhibition was described in Time (October 19, 1953) as a “chamber of horrors” filled with paintings that are “snapshots from hell,” told Melvyn Bragg (1985) on the South Bank Show that he wanted to give a “shock… not a shock that you could get from the story [but] a visual shock.” He apparently succeeded in doing so, not only when he first began to produce his work but even today. In the late 1940s, when he first began to exhibit, a critic wrote in The Observer that Bacon's paintings “… horrifying though they” are also technically superb, making one “… regret the more that the artist should have been brought to subjects so esoteric” (quoted in Peppiatt, 1996, p 156), while the correspondent of The Times thought the subject of his pictures to be “so extremely repellent” as to make his paintings “as vivid and as meaningless as a nightmare,” lamenting that Bacon should have used his considerable powers of imagination and pictorial skill to produce something “which it is impossible not to think worse than nonsense, as Head II, which appears to be a mutilated corpse, most certainly is” (Peppiatt, 1996, p 156). Nor are such comments restricted to the early phase of Bacon's output; they persist until the 1990s, well after he had acquired world-wide fame. This suggests that the passage of time did not diminish the intensity of the visual shock that he intended to produce, either in the average viewer or among those more knowledgeable about art. The reaction of the average viewer is perhaps best summed up by Margaret Thatcher (1992), who described him as “that man who paints those dreadful pictures.” This view is not too distant from those expressed in even more powerful adjectives by more learned critics, Margaret Walters (Cork, 1985) describing his work as, “daemonic, hysterical, monstrous” and Peter Fuller describing him as an “evil genius” whose images were “odious” (Brighton, 2001). As recently as 2012 he was described in The Guardian as creating “a monstrous, surreal imaginative world of enclosed rooms and private hells” (Jones, 2012). Such adjectives leave little doubt that he had succeeded in producing an enduring shock, even in the same viewer.

The conceptual framework within which Bacon worked is relatively easy to establish and of importance to our argument. It is significant that, like many other great artists, he destroyed many of his paintings, claiming that he had usually destroyed the better ones (Sylvester, 1963). He was always trying, he said, to paint the one perfect image which, he claimed, he had never succeeded in achieving. Thus, by his own account, all these paintings were a journey toward the representation, in a single perfect image that was never achieved, of a concept in his mind. He claimed to have had a concept in mind before starting work on a painting but that, once he started, the painting changed unpredictably and by accidents, but accidents “out of which [the artist] chooses the marks which he wants to leave” (Jebb, 1965) (that is, those marks that correspond best to his concept), which for him were “forms that relate to the human image but are a complete distortion of it” for only then could one get “to the reality behind the image”  (Sylvester, 1963). From those “accidents” he thus chose what came closest to representing his concept.



What was the overall concept in his mind? It is useful to begin by making a distinction between inherited and acquired brain concepts (Zeki, 2008). One of the primordial functions of the brain is to acquire knowledge, and it does so through inherited and acquired concepts. Faces and bodies are examples of the former and there is reasonable evidence to suggest that the recognition of faces and bodies, though not of their identity, is at least facilitated through inherited concepts that are present at birth (Zeki, 2008) (see section The Privileged Status of Faces and Bodies in Visual Perception). Inherited concepts are robust, stable and do not change with time or do so insignificantly; crucially, they are common to all humans, except in relatively rare pathological conditions, of which acquired prosopagnosia is especially noteworthy in this context (see section Prosopagnosia or Facial Imperception). Certain configurations and relationships are critical for recognition of faces and bodies as normal ones. By contrast, acquired concepts to which that of houses, cars and other human artifacts and situations belong, are malleable and change with time and acquired experience and are culture dependent. At any given moment, therefore, they are the synthesis of all previous experiences of the same category of object or situation. (Zeki, 2008).

Bacon said that he tried to represent “concentrations of reality” (Bragg 1985). We may surmise from his work that one such “concentration of reality” (which we equate with acquired concepts) behind the images that he produced was that of alienation, a situation in which he commonly found himself and apparently saw in others. The sense of alienation may have been the result of his own tastes which, during much of his lifetime, were regarded by Church, state and society as an evil which should carry a deep sense of guilt. According to Andrew (Brighton, 2001), Bacon found inspiration in the writings of Count Joseph de Maistre, an 18th century French philosopher who had emphasized universal guilt derived from Original Sin and the Fall. Thus, the lonely, alienated, figures in Bacon's paintings (and most of his paintings contain single figures, some two, rarely more) were part of mankind, bearing a guilt common to all even if differing in detail and traceable to different sources, allowing Bacon to believe that he was depicting a universal message, that of pain. For Bacon, “nearly all reality is pain” and he thought that, when we look at his paintings, we are looking at the real world: “What could I make,” he asked, “to compete with what goes on every single day… except that I may have tried to make images of it; I have tried to re-create it and make, not the horror, but… images of realism” (Bragg 1985).

The means that Bacon employed to project his acquired concept in his paintings was to subvert the brain's inherited concepts of what bodies and faces should look like. Thus, in addition to the lonely figures, he made use of mutilated and savaged faces and bodies, often in combination. This enabled him, in his own words, to hit “the nervous system more violently and poignantly” and thus get to the reality behind the image (Sylvester, 1963). He was looking, it seems, for something primitive and instantaneous, divorced as much as possible from the cognitive element and presumably from cultural context as well, for by concentrating on deformed faces and bodies he was working outside any social and cultural context and within one that most, irrespective of race or culture, would respond to, even if only negatively. Faces and bodies occupy a very privileged position in visual perception, and indeed their recognition may be due to inherited brain concepts. Objects do not share that same privileged position and hence their distortions would not produce the same visual shock or, if they do, they become rapidly adapted to, unlike distorted faces and bodies (Chen and Zeki, 2011). Bacon, on whom Picasso was a leading influence, thus violated and subverted deliberately the brain template for registering faces and bodies, leading to an almost universal experience of his portraits and bodies as disturbing. By contrast, Picasso's Cubist work is not as disturbing, partly because many of his portraits do not disfigure or mutiliate faces or distort the relationship between their components as violently as Bacon; disfigurations are minimal and maintain significant parts of the relationships between components intact, even when presenting, or attempting to present, different views on the same canvas. The adjectives describing Bacon's work, which are peppered throughout this article, testify that few, if any, have qualified these works as beautiful, even if they consider them to have considerable artistic merit; almost all find them disturbing. These disfigured and mutilated faces and bodies are usually set against neutral backgrounds or anonymous spaces containing few objects—chairs, tables, light bulbs, cars—which, by contrast, are not in any way deformed. He seems to have had a marked preference for faces even in other artists' work; for example, he preferred the portraits of both Picasso and Giacometti to their other work (Archimbaud, 1992).

That Bacon should have concentrated almost exclusively on distorted human bodies and faces to produce an immediate emotional impact on the nervous system, before things got “spelled out” in the brain (Peppiatt, 1996), invites enquiry into what is so special about the neural representation of faces and bodies, which they do not share with other everyday objects. One question we therefore address is whether there is any neurological basis for this violent, primitive and instantaneous assault, an assault that lies beyond reasoning. It was always Bacon's intent not to appeal to reason or even to thinking. The paintings, stripped of any associations, contained the message and his concept, but otherwise had no story to tell for, as he said, “once an image could be explained… it was worthless,” adding that, “After all, if you could explain it, why would you go to the trouble of painting it” (Peppiatt, 1996, p. 117); in his paintings, he was presenting, he said, “nothing except what people wanted to read into it” (Bragg,1985). The central argument in this essay, which we develop below, is therefore that Bacon was trying, in his work, to project his acquired concept of pain and alienation and horror by subverting, as far as is possible, the brain's inherited concepts of face and body; that, in other words, he was trying to use an inherited brain concept to project his own acquired concept.

To achieve his overall concept in paintings, that of depicting realism by subverting the brain's inherited concepts, Bacon worked from memory and from photographs but frequented establishments such as the Colony Club in London, where people, as he told Melvyn Bragg (1985), were completely dis-inhibited and not on their guard, so that he could study them in the raw, as it were. As well, he was fascinated with movement, especially as portrayed in Edweard Muybridge's chronophotography of the movement of deformed animals as well as in the “Extraordinary photographs of animals taken out just before they were slaughtered” (Sylvester, 1963). This obsession with deformity and violence extended to his literary tastes. One of his favorite literary sources was the Oresteia by Aeschylus. It was, he said, “the most blood-bathed tragedy that exists, with almost nothing but blood from beginning to end” and yet, “The reek of human blood smiles out at me” was a favorite passage of his from the play (Peppiatt, 1996, p 111). The preoccupation with deformity, violence and violent distortions, indeed with representing violence (for almost all his paintings suggest that a violence has been done to the subject) may have been the result of several factors: the violence he received from his father, to whom he was sexually attracted, the “neurosis” of the century in which he lived and his experiences as an orderly during the Second World War, his own taste for violence even in sex, which he considered to be a violent act. Whatever the cause, he was partial to portraying the human condition by representing violence, for he considered the whole of life—from birth to death—to be violent.

We first address the question of whether faces and bodies occupy a privileged position in visual perception because of inherited brain concepts regulating their recognition, one not shared by objects and, next, whether distortion of faces and bodies influences the neural response more than distortion of objects and man-made artefacts. The relevance of discussing this in the context of this article is our belief that inherited brain concepts, such as configurations that qualify a stimulus as a face or body, are much more susceptible to the effects of distortion than acquired ones, to which houses, cars and man-made objects in general belong (Zeki, 2008; Chen and Zeki, 2011), and that Bacon consistently achieved his effects by distorting inherited brain concepts of face and body and sparing the objects, which are more resistant to distortion.



Faces in general occupy a very privileged position in visual perception, as do bodies. This is not surprising, given their importance in obtaining knowledge about an individual, their emotional status at any given moment and their identity. The literature on the topic of face perception is now quite voluminous, and the one on body perception tending in that direction. We do not provide an exhaustive review here but distil from it those points that are especially relevant for discussing Bacon's “visual shock” and its enduring effect, in terms of that privileged position.



Reflecting their significance for acquiring knowledge, special areas of the brain appear to be critical for the recognition of faces and bodies, although whether these areas are uniquely specialized for faces or bodies has been debated (Haxby et al., 2001) as has the question of whether there is an inherited neural template for facial recognition, some considering that it is more a matter of expertise derived from intimate contact and experience (Gauthier and Nelson, 2001; Bilalic et al., 2011). Whichever view turns out to be correct, there is common agreement that the areas enumerated below are strongly activated by faces. Among these are (i) an area located in the fusiform gyrus and known as the fusiform face area (FFA) (Sergent et al.,; Kanwisher ret al., 1997; Kanwisher and Yovel,2006) (Figure 1B), damage to which leads to the syndrome of prosopagnosia or an incapacity to recognize familiar faces (Damasio et al., 1982, for a review). We note in passing that the FFA is also activated by faces viewed from different angles (e.g., Pourtois et al., 2005) and by animal faces (Maguire et al., 2001), both common in Bacon's work. (ii) an area located in the inferior lateral occipital gyrus and known as the occipital face area (OFA) (Peelen and Downing, 2007; Pitcher et al, 2011), and (iii) a third area, located in the superior temporal sulcus, which appears to be involved in the recognition of changing facial features and expressions (Haxby et al., 2000; Kanwisher and Yovel, 200), thus emphasizing the importance of the face as a means of obtaining knowledge about a person's emotional status. These areas respond better to faces and give weaker or no responses when the faces are scrambled so as to contain all the elements but arranged in a way that is different and does not lead to recognition of a face (Kanwisher et al., 1997). This in itself, at a very elementary level, implies that there must be certain configurations of a stimulus if it is to lead to activity in areas critical for the recognition of faces. The privileged status of face perception is further emphasized by the very rapid activation of OFA, at 60–100 ms after stimulus onset (Pitcher et al., 2007).

That there is a privileged mechanism that favors the early recognition of faces and bodies is further supported by evidence which shows that the face and body recognition systems are not only very robust but also very exigent in their demands for activation. For example, the negative EEG potential at 170 ms (which refers to a negative deflection, N170, of occipito-temporal origin, occurring at about 170 ms after presentation of the stimulus, and is larger in amplitude to faces and bodies than to objects) is demanding as to the correct configuration of the face since mis-aligning the two halves of a face delays and increases it specifically for upright faces, much less so for inverted ones (Ishizu et al., 2008). Here it is interesting to note that many, if not most, of Bacon's portraits can arguably be said to be misaligned in one way or another (see Figure 2). One may surmise from this that a stimulus such as that of Figure 2 would equally delay and increase the 170 ms deflection, in other words signal an abnormal configuration by leading to a modified pattern of neural responses.

The N170 component is also enhanced and delayed when the stimuli are those of inverted bodies (Stekelenburg and de Gelder, 2004; Minnebusch et al., 2008), thus suggesting an interaction between separate representation of faces and bodies, since images of human bodies themselves elicit a negative peak at 190 ms which differs in spatial distribution (Thierry et al., 2006; Ishizu et al., 2010); how a mutilated head sitting on a mutilated body, as is common in Bacon's work, would affect neural responses is not known, the effects of distortion having been studied in relation to a face or a body but not the two together. All of this speaks in favor of an essential configuration for faces, which may be due to an inherited or rapidly acquired template for facial recognition.

That even severe distortion of faces (and bodies) such as Bacon regularly practiced has little effect, beyond a delay, on the recognition of a stimulus as a face or a body testifies to the robustness of the representation, even if distorted faces result in a pattern of activity in the brain that is different from that obtained with neutral faces (see section A Fast Route for the Recognition of Facial and Body Stimuli). Hence the face recognition system is robust on the one hand and susceptible to disfiguration on the other, since disfiguration leads to a different pattern of neuronal activity.

The brain also appears to devote special cortical areas to the representation of human bodies, even headless ones (Schwarzlose et al., 20050. One of these is the fusiform body area (FBA), located in the fusiform gyrus in close proximity to the FFA, and the other is the extrastriate body area (EBA) located in the infero-posterior part of the temporal cortex, neighboring area OFA (Peelen and Downing, 2007 for a review) (see Figure 1B). Hence, there is also an essential configuration that is critical for eliciting activity from these specialized areas. But here again, Bacon, though maintaining the relationship between the constituents that constitute a body, distorted them severely and added a subversive emotional envelope (see section The Effect of Distortions of Face and Body on Cortical Activity). The areas critical for body recognition lie in close proximity to those for facial recognition (the OFA and the FFA); the brain thus appears to devote separate systems to the recognition of bodies and of faces but ones that are intimately connected since exposure of subjects to pictures of fearful body expressions activates the FFA (Hadjikhani and de Gelder, 2003), implying an intimate anatomical and functional connection between them. We note in passing that, his portraits apart, Bacon commonly disfigured both faces and bodies in single compositions (see Figure 3).

The areas enumerated here may not be the only ones that are important in the recognition of faces and bodies, and their emotional status; some have argued that the recognition of faces engages a much more distributed system (Ishai et al., 2005), but there is common agreement that they are critically important. Hence, viewing of Bacon's portraits is strongly dependent upon the functioning of these areas, an interesting if by now obvious fact. It has, however, also been argued that, even within the region of the fusiform gyrus occupied by the FFA, cells responsive to common objects may be found (Haxby et al., 2001). This is interesting, both in the context of Bacon's work and in relation to the neurobiology of visual representation in the brain. Given the resistance of objects, and the susceptibility of faces and bodies, to inversion and to distortion (see below), it becomes interesting to enquire whether cells representing faces and bodies on the one hand and objects on the other, are regulated differently, even if they co-occur in the same area(s) and whether it is because of this differential susceptibility that Bacon concentrated on deforming faces and bodies and sparing objects.



Prosopagnosia or an incapacity to recognize an individual through the face, and especially inherited prosopagnosia (McConachie, 1976; Ariel and Sadeh, 1996), also supports the view that there is an inherited or a rapidly acquired template for face representation that is not shared by objects. When acquired, the syndrome is usually the result of damage to the fusiform gyrus that includes the FFA. Prosopagnosia may result in an incapacity limited to the recognition of familiar faces but there have been examples of patients simply not able to recognize faces. The imperceptions may extend to an inability, or impaired ability, to recognize the faces of animals (Assal et al., 1984),  which have a basic significant facial configuration not unlike humans, and we note here that Bacon depicted both human and animal faces and bodies, sometimes in combination. Not even knowledge that a prosopagnosic patient is actually looking at a face (for example at his own in a mirror) can restore the normal perception of a face (Pallis, 1955).  

For our purposes here, we may summarize this section by saying that, regardless of disagreements over important details, there is now general agreement that the face and body recognition systems are neurologically robust and that several cortical areas are critical for their recognition. The relevance of a robust system is that its properties are much less plastic and therefore much less modifiable with experience, a point that seems to us of importance in understanding how Bacon was able to produce a visual shock.



The form system in the brain is commonly thought to be derived from the orientation selective cells of V1 (Hubel and Wiesel, 1977) (Figure 1A) and consists of a single hierarchical pathway which uses the orientation selective cells to build up more complex forms, and eventually complex objects that an area such as the lateral occipital complex (LOC) responds to (Grill-Spectator et al., 2001). This view is almost certainly far too simplistic and there is evidence that the form system itself may consist of parallel sub-systems. We do not review this here but point to clinical evidence which shows that (a) agnosias for complex shapes and objects need not be accompanied by an agnosia for simple line representation of the same shapes (Humphreys and Riddoch, 1987) and, conversely, that agnosia for simple line drawings of complex shapes need not be accompanied by an agnosia for the complex shapes themselves (Hiraoka et al., 2009) and (b) that an agnosia for static forms does not extend to the same forms when in motion (Botez and Sebrãnescu, 1967), consistent with the suggestion that there may be a separate dynamic form system in the brain (Grossberg, 1991; Zeki, 1993). Our interest in mentioning the brain areas critical for form is (a) that regardless of whether the brain areas critical for face perception also respond to objects, other, distinct, cortical areas have been reported to be involved in object representation and, so far, these have not been implicated in face or body perception; (b) that the areas critical for face recognition should also be responsive to objects complicates the picture somewhat on the one hand while emphasizing a critical feature on the other, namely that the brain reaction to distorted faces and bodies is different from its reaction to distorted objects (see section Consequences of Violating the Essential Configuration of Faces.



Evidence that we are born with a capacity to recognize and register essential configurations that qualify stimuli as a face are present at birth or very soon (within hours) thereafter is shown by the fact that children react very early on—within a matter of hours—to faces, in that they orient more readily toward simple face-like patterns (Goren et al., 1975; Johnson et al., 1991). But what exactly they are reacting to is not universally agreed on. One view is that we are born with some kind of inherited “template” that approximates a face and another is that it has more to do with asymmetries in what appears in the upper and lower field of view, the reasoning being that new-borns prefer patterns in which more elements appear in the upper field of view (eyes) than in the lower (mouth) (Simion et al., 2002; Cassia et al., 2008). A third view may be that the intimate contact between infant and parent privileges the face through a rapid plastic process that facilitates the recognition of faces (Johnson, 2005). These arguments, though of substantial interest in the context of the neural determinants of facial perception, are of little interest for our present purposes because, whichever of the hypotheses turns out to be valid, the net result, perceptually, is that new-borns orient preferentially to faces or face-like stimuli, thus suggesting that there is something robust, or becomes rapidly robust, about configurations that are face-like. Whether due to an inherited concept (Zeki, 2008) for faces or face-like configurations or a privileged plasticity that favors the recognition of face-like stimuli, it is clear that there is a very early recognition of, and preference for, face-like stimuli. Hence, Bacon was subverting something very privileged in visual perception.

The perception of bodies has not been studied as extensively, but there are reasons to suppose that there are also essential configurations that qualify stimuli as being that of bodies. The evidence comes principally from electroencephalographic (EEG) recordings from the brains of 3–4 month old infants, who appear to be able to recognize bodies (de Gelder, 2006).

By contrast, there is no similar essential configuration to qualify an object, and where there is one through exposure and training, it can adapt rapidly to a new configuration that is radically different. One need only refer to the example of planes, from simple twin-engined turboprop planes, to drones, to jumbo jets, to variable swing-wing aircraft, to realize that there are many configurations that can fit the (acquired) concept of a plane (for before there were planes there was no acquired concept of them). Nor does there appear to be a distinct and privileged mechanism for early and rapid acquisition of a template for objects. Here it is interesting to note that, even in adult life, monkeys can be trained to learn new configurations of objects and discriminate them as a category even if they had not seen the particular example before (Logothetis et al., 1995). Whether rapidly acquired through a privileged plasticity or not, the templates for faces and bodies are not modifiable, in the sense that those for objects can be modified (see section Consequences of Violating the Essential Configuration of Faces).



While painting disfigured and mutilated bodies and faces, Bacon nevertheless maintained a generally holistic representation that makes it easy to discriminate his paintings as being of faces or bodies. It is commonly accepted that face representation is holistic. Evidence for this comes partly from studies of the so-called “inversion effect,” by which is meant the relative difficulty of recognizing faces when they are inverted, although Bacon himself rarely painted inverted faces and bodies, Figure being a somewhat rare exception and Figure 5 (Reclining Woman, 1961) a more extreme version, in the total inversion and disfiguration of the human face and body. The inversion effect has been proposed as demonstrating the importance of configural, relational, information in facial recognition. It is not actually limited to faces, since objects in general become more difficult to recognize when inverted (Haxby et al., 1999); but inversion has a disproportionately large effect on facial recognition compared to the recognition of objects (de Gelder and Rouw, 2000). Many prosopagnosia studies also attest to the fact that the deficit is holistic, in the sense that it leads to an incapacity to recognize a face while sparing the ability to recognize its constituents, such as the eyes or the nose (Kimchi et al., 2012), that the whole is other than the sum of the parts, in Gestalt language. It is, in short, the relationship of the constituent parts that is critical, and constitutes the essential configuration. It is interesting to note here that a patient suffering from object agnosia but not prosopagnosia was capable of perceiving a face made up of objects (the Arcimboldo Effect), without being able to recognize what the constituent objects were (Moscovitch et al., 1997), implying that a given essential configuration or arrangement, no matter what the constituents that make up that configuration might be and no matter how distorted the constituents are, provided they bear the essential relationship to one another to constitute a face, are sufficient to qualify a face as a face.

The neural consequences of inversion are controversial, in line with the controversy as to whether there are “face modules” in the brain or whether there are extended brain regions in which objects are represented, of which faces constitute one category. There is general agreement that face inversion diminishes the response to faces in the FFA and the temporal face regions, and has a selective and dramatic effect on the responses to faces in regions which are responsive to houses (Haxby et al., 20000). This raises an interesting question: if knowledge of faces and objects are both acquired through expertise, as has been argued (Gauthier and Nelson, 2001 for a review), the larger perceptual susceptibility of faces and bodies to inversion implies that different mechanisms are at work, or perhaps that the neural mechanisms underlying one kind of representation are more labile than those underlying the other. Bacon appears to have opted instinctively for the less labile representation to deliver his visual shock.

Inversion of faces, as of bodies, also results in slower reaction times and higher error rates for identification (Reed et al., 2003) and it is inversion of the whole rather than of components that produces these results (see also the “Thatcher Illusion,” Thompson, 1980). Indeed, even distorted faces (ones in which the eyes are positioned asymmetrically) are processed holistically (de Heeriing et al., 2012). Crucially, inverted faces lead to a pattern of cortical activation that is distinct from that produced by upright faces and resembles more closely the activation pattern produced by viewing objects (Haxby et al., 1999), as if an inverted face becomes coded as yet another object. This implies again a difference in the neural mechanisms regulating the representation of the two. Inversion has a disproportionately large effect on the recognition of body postures (Reed et al., 2003). Distorted bodies also have a significant effect on brain-evoked potentials (Gliga and Dehaene-Lambertz, 2005), suggesting that the perception of bodies may also be facilitated by some inherited neural template, which may however also be facilitated through expertise.

The mutilation and disfiguration of faces and bodies in Bacon's work is largely restricted to the constituents but does not affect the relationship of these constituents to one another, hence maintaining their holistic aspect and allowing them to be recognized easily as faces or bodies. Only rarely is the relationship of the constituents altered, as in his Self Portrait (Figure 6), which violates somewhat the norms of a face in the absence of one eye, and the depiction of a severely distorted jaw with an abnormal relationship to mouth and nose. Otherwise, his distortions are of constituents which, though bearing a correct relationship to one another, may be unequal in size or severely asymmetric. The portrait in Figure 7 has an essential configuration that is recognizable instantly as a face, but it is a highly abnormal one, with one side being out of proportion with the other. Hence, in terms of our definition given above, the pictures contain not only the essential configuration necessary to result in activity—though apparently an abnormal one—in the areas critical for face perception, but in addition arouse strong negative emotions and also almost certainly entail activity in the amygdala and insula (see below section A Fast Route for the Recognition of Facial and Body Stimuli).



The distortion of faces and bodies is more severe in some of Bacon's paintings than in others but very few can be said to render faces and bodies normally. Distortions in general, even those that are much less severe than the ones crafted by Bacon, lead to a pattern of cortical activity that is somewhat different from the one produced when humans view normal faces and bodies, although it should be emphasized that images of “distorted” bodies and faces used in the experiments described below were nowhere as extreme or as distorted as the ones depicted by Bacon in his paintings. In particular, the amplitudes of the responses evoked by viewing faces and bodies are reduced by viewing distorted versions of both (Gilga and Dehaene-Lambertz, 2005). It is, again, noteworthy that object inversion and distortion, which Bacon generally avoided, does not produce similar results (Boutsen et al., 2006).

One of the most famous portraits of Bacon is inspired by Diego Velázquez's painting of Pope Innocent X, a painting which Bacon never really saw but worked from photographs of it alone. Bacon may have wanted to depict the human cage in which even someone so special, as he said, as the Pope is confined but the Pope is not the only figure to be so confined in Bacon's similar drawings. It has been suggested that the paintings are a reaction to his relationship with his father and that they were influenced by a scene from Eisenstein film Battleship Potemkin or by Nicholas Poussin's The Massacre of the Innocents, where a mother is crying in agony at the murder of her child, or perhaps both. Whatever their psychological and artistic origin, the Pope drawings nevertheless show an unaccustomed picture, of someone screaming, even if the face of the Pope is not as mangled as those in many of his other portraits. In Head VI (Figure 8), barely half the face of a screaming pope is visible, suggesting a profound abnormality characteristic of his other depictions of popes and cardinals. They thus also constitute a departure from a sort of distortion of what qualifies a face as a face. On the rare occasions when he portrayed, in similar conditions, a much more normally appearing face [Figure 9 (Study for Portrait II, 1952)], the impact is much less severe and the painting correspondingly much less arresting.

The list of distortions is hardly worth describing in detail; about the only general but accurate statement that can be made of all his paintings is that they are agonized, mutilated and savaged portraits. Cecil Beaton, the English photographer, recounts in his autobiography his shock at seeing Bacon's portrait of himself where, “The face was hardly recognizable as a face for it was disintegrating before your eyes, suffering from a severe case of elephantiasis; a swollen mass of raw meat and fatty tissues. The nose spreads in many directions like a polyp but sagged finally over one cheek. The mouth looked like a painful boil about to burst… ” (Peppiatt, 1996, p 226). Bacon himself preferred to work from photographs rather than have models in his studio, especially in his later years, “to avoid, as he said, inflicting on them in their presence the injury which he did to them in paint” (Peppiatt, 1996, p 204). Indeed, it is said that when Lucian Freud came to Bacon's studio to pose for a portrait, he found that it was almost finished, with Bacon insisting that he only needed to work on the feet!

It is interesting to note here that human-animal complexes—as in Egyptian art and in particular the sphinx—which Bacon greatly admired and which could be regarded as “distorted” representations of both humans and animals, are not nearly as unsettling or disturbing as the disfigured paintings of Bacon, either those of faces alone, or those of bodies, or of the two together. We suppose that this is because, although the two are combined in a departure from what humans usually experience, nevertheless the two neurally separately represented entities—bodies and faces—are normal and neither would constitute an “assault” on the nervous system. By contrast, when Bacon used the sphinx as a template for his paintings, both the body and the face were distorted (see Francis Bacon, Oedipus and the Sphinx after Ingres).

No less deformed in Bacon's paintings are the bodies; indeed few of his paintings, if any, can be said to escape that savage disfigurement. There is no particular part of the body that is privileged in this regard but what is interesting is that, even when a segment, for example the torso or the legs, is spared, the general impression gained by the viewer is a total disfigurement, suggesting a holistic representation of the body. His Study or a Portrait (1971) is a typical example of a mangled body, which has one or two “normal” features, in this case the foot, which nevertheless is in a somewhat abnormal position. Study from the Human Body: Man Turning on the Light (Reynolds, 2007) (Figure 10) has a more or less normal appearance in one half and a much distorted one in the other which, if bodies are processed configurally, would amount to distortion. Such examples may be multiplied, but it is interesting to note that, especially with his depictions of the human body, the ordinary objects incorporated into the paintings are virtually always undistorted.

The perceptual classification of a face or body as happy or threatening or sad or fearful also depends upon given specific configurations. It is common knowledge that upturned corners of the mouth are one element signifying a happy face while downturned ones signify the opposite. Here, another innovation in Bacon's works intrudes—his faces are neither happy nor sad, neither threatening nor comforting, neither fearful nor welcoming. Instead, they are all mutilated and usually savagely so; they are, in Peppiatt's words, “unusual” and “sinisterly unpleasant.” Hence, what Bacon has achieved is to trample over such configurations that allow the rapid classification of the emotional envelope on a face or a body into the above categories.



In his book, Peppiatt states that Bacon's intent was to produce work such “that the nerves are immediately alerted to something unusual, something sinisterly unpleasant, before the image has spelled itself out in the brain” (Peppiat, 1996).Most of his paintings alert one to something unusual, even his relatively normal ones of the Screaming Pope. There is evidence that the emotionally disturbing rendering of faces and bodies engages a fast neural system, but whether this occurs before the image has “spelled itself out in the brain” is not certain. It is to be noted that objects can also be distorted but do not have nearly the same emotional impact as distorted faces and bodies and, moreover, that Bacon himself rarely distorted objects and when he did so, it was very mild and produces no emotional impact at all

When the faces viewed have a “sinister” and therefore strong emotional component (both common in Bacon's paintings), there is activation of the amygdala (Morris et al., 1996; Hadjikhani and de Gelder, 2003; Sato et al., 2011) as well as of the insula (Krolak-Salmon et al. 2003), although neither has been shown to be engaged when neutral faces are viewed. It has been suggested that viewing a fearful face leads to fast, short-latency activation (at about 100 ms after exposure) of the amygdala before spreading to the cortex (Krolak-Salmon et al., 2004). More recent evidence shows that the latency of response from the sub-cortical centers involved is not very different from latencies in areas such as the OFA when subjects view neutral faces. Fearful faces activate the amygdala rapidly (in the 50–150 ms time frame), while a transcranial magnetic stimulation study suggests the earliest activity in the OFA occurs at 60–100 ms for neutral faces (Pitcher et al., 2007), with a later component at 150 ms (Hung et al., 2010).

The facial recognition route which registers rapidly extreme expressions on a face or a body such as fear or disgust, is more “primitive” in the sense that it is activated by low spatial frequencies (coarse visual information) and is independent of the precise identity of the person viewed (Vuilleumier et al; Maratos et al., 2009). The sub-cortical routes seemingly influence strongly face perception but can act autonomously, since subjects can recognize the valence on a face when faces are viewed without conscious awareness of the face itself (de Gelder et al., 2005), even if the sub-cortical route relays signals to the corresponding cortical zones and modulates activity in them (Johnson, 2005). This suggests that the emotional component—fear, disgust, (as is so common when viewing Bacon's paintings)-is recorded as rapidly as the face itself. Hence, the sub-cortical system may be instrumental in alerting the brain, with very brief latencies, that a stimulus recognized as a face has something unusual about it

It is likely that the sub-cortical system is used in the demonstrated newborn preference for faces (Johnson, 2005). This route may in fact not only modulate cortical responses but also be indicative of a system involved with facial recognition that acts in parallel with the high frequency system, which identifies details on the face as well as facial identity. Thus, while the recognition of a stimulus as containing the “primitives” of a face might depend upon a sub-cortical system and on low spatial frequencies, the process appears to become more “corticalized” as refinements due to experience are added and recognition is not only of a face as such but the identity of the face (Johnson, 2005).

To our knowledge no parallel studies have been performed to learn whether there is a sub-cortical or cortical system that reacts to bodies presented in low spatial frequencies. Nor has any fast, sub-cortical route for object recognition been reported.



Bacon often emphasized that his work came from the “unconscious.” “I've made images that the intellect can never make,” he told Melvyn Bragg emphatically (Bacon, interviewed by Bragg, 1985). He also often stated that he produced some of his most prized works, such as Three Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944) (Tate, 2013a) [of which there is also a second version (Tate, 2013b)], when in an inebriated state and not capable of clear thinking, thus perhaps emphasizing the predominance of what he supposed is the “unconscious” element. Bacon reputedly was inspired by a number of sources for this painting, including Greek mythology as well as the work of Pablo Picasso. Taken together with his avowed aim of attacking the nervous system before things get spelled out in the brain, he is perhaps emphasizing that his paintings are originating from the “unconscious” and are destined for the “unconscious.” Of course, what Bacon means by the “unconscious” is never spelled out clearly or defined. The meaning we would like to attach to it is more specific; we mean by it a severe mutilation and distortion of what constitutes a normal face that is registered in the brain even when the subject is not consciously aware of having viewed such a face. Violations of essential configurations are experienced consciously and have, as a consequence, an emotional dimension that is also experienced consciously. But there appears to be also an unconscious dimension that mediates the experience; subjects can discriminate the emotional valence on a face even when not consciously aware of the face, especially if the expression is fearful (Bertini et al., 2013). Here it is important to notice, once again, that the “fearful” faces used in such experiments are not nearly as unusual as those depicted by Bacon. The rapid activation of amygdala and insula by emotional stimuli which can be registered “unconsciously,” implies that, for the ordinary viewer, a Bacon painting is registered through the two parallel systems, cortical and sub-cortical, with a dominant sub-cortical emotional registration occurring through structures such as the amygdala and insula. It is hard to escape the conclusion that the sub-cortical system is the emotionally more dominant one, since it is capable of responding even in the absence of an acknowledged “awareness” of the stimulus. The adjectives used to describe Bacon's work—“repellent,” “mutilated,” “hell”–serve to describe well the strong emotional component in his work, a component which seemingly would activate the emotional branch of the face-recognition system powerfully. Disregarding the religious connotation in the title of Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, it is evidently a painting of some horrifically deformed animal(s), so deformed that it is hard to tell the species or indeed whether it is an animal at all. Yet, we emphasize again, there is nothing extraordinary about the geometric configurations against which the animals are set. Especially in the second version of the Three Studies, the geometric lines are normal and the tables are easily recognizable as tables though the central one could easily be conceived of as the somewhat bizarre creation of a modern artist

It is to be noted, however, that the emotional valence on some of his portraits or bodies are hard to classify as fearful or shocking or threatening; they are departures even from the norms that we associate with such emotions. How, for example, is one to categorize, in terms of emotions, the triptych portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne, whom Bacon considered to be “a very beautiful woman” (Bragg, 1985), shown in Figure 11? Severely mutilated may be a more appropriate term, especially for the central portrait; what is not in doubt is that all three represent significant departures from normal faces and normal emotions, be they emotions of fear or happiness. To that extent they are subversions of the brain's normal, expected, experience of faces and hence constitute and represent a threat. It would be interesting to learn how such distortions, which can be qualified only as unusual but not necessarily as ugly or threatening, affect the pattern of activity in both the cortical and sub-cortical systems that are important for facial recognition.



We have alluded repeatedly above to the difference in Bacon's paintings between faces and bodies on the one hand and objects on the other, the former being severely distorted and mutilated while the latter escaped such violence from one who thought that the whole of life is violent. We give a few more examples below, to emphasize the point: The chair on which the man of Figure 12 sits is fairly normal as is the window or door behind. Equally, there is nothing unusual in the lines that constitute a sort of cage in which the person portrayed in Figure 14 sits. Bacon claimed that he used these lines only as a kind of frame for what he was painting. In Figure 13, the cage could be in a bi-stable state and somewhat unusual in shape but other than that there is nothing about it that is shocking, even in spite of its somewhat unusual shape. Equally, the furnishings of Figure 14 are all fairly normal, while the face of the sitter is severely deformed. Such examples may be multiplied and attest to one difference between his rendering of bodies and faces on the one hand and objects on the other: he deformed and mutilated the former but left the latter largely intact.



                                                Figure 2. Francis Bacon—Self Portrait, 1969



Superficially, any unusual visual input may be considered to be a visual shock but most of these are momentary and quickly adapted to. A very unusual artefact, one which departs from the general class of artifacts to which it belongs (say of planes or cars), may at first sight constitute a visual shock in the sense that it is an unaccustomed departure from the norm. With repeated viewing and time, however, it ceases to be a shock but comes to be accepted as commonplace; but this does not seem to be true of visual stimuli for which we have an ingrained or possibly inherited predisposition (Chen and Zeki, 2011).

In further evidence of the robustness of the neural templates—whether inherited or rapidly acquired after birth—for essential configurations that qualify a visual stimulus as a face, are experiments inspired by Bacon's work, which have aimed to chart the differences that underlie the perception of violated faces and violated human artefacts such as cars or planes. Violated faces, unlike normal faces and violated human artifacts, result in activation of dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and parietal cortex. This activation is resistant to prolonged viewing of violated faces (up to one month), in that viewing abnormal faces for that period does not decrease activity in that cortex but actually enhances it. This is interesting because the DLPFC gives a strong reaction to unpredictable stimuli or to departures from what is considered normal. For example, although the DLPFC does not appear to be active when objects are dressed in colors with which they are normally associated, it is active when humans view objects dressed in un-natural colors, that is to say colors with which they are not usually associated (Zeki and Marini, 1998). The strength of activity in the DLPFC appears to decrease with prolonged exposure to such unpredictable stimuli (Raichle et al., 1994; Rainer and Miller, 2000; Fletcher et al., 2001). That the activity in the DLPFC should have increased when viewing violated faces even after prolonged exposure to such stimuli implies (a) that we do not adapt easily to the concept of violated faces and (b) that the significant configuration that qualifies a stimulus as a face is much more robust than the configurations that characterize the recognition of artifacts acquired through experience, and hence any departures from it are strongly registered. It is interesting to note in passing that violation of spatial relations (which Bacon did not indulge in) are also resistant to adaptation over a similar period (Chen and Zeki, 2011).

Whether the brain has specialized “face modules” or whether faces constitute one category processed in a large cortical zone which also processes other categories, that violation of faces should lead to strong and enduring activity within parietal cortex and the DLPFC while violations of human artifacts should not, leads naturally to the supposition that the neural mechanisms regulating the two categories (and probably bodies as well) differ significantly, although what this difference is must remain conjectural for the present.

What we are suggesting is that Bacon, unknowingly, used a robust system based on an inherited concept and violated it to produce his shock. That we do not become readily adapted to such violations, although we become adapted to violations of human artifacts, perhaps accounts for the enduring shock effect that Bacon's work, almost all of which violates faces and bodies, has.

There are of course many other aspects of Bacon's work that we could discuss, but this would enter too much into a world of speculation. While it is clear that different categories of animals elicit a reaction from the visual brain, the effect of deformation of animal faces and bodies on brain activity has not been studied in any detail. But it is probably safe to assume that deformation of animals has a similar effect—though possibly a less pronounced one—than deformation of human faces and bodies. Bacon commonly painted animals and in some of his paintings he combined a human body with an animal face, or vice versa, or incorporated some elements of an animal into the depiction of a human.



What then are the insights of neurobiological and neuroesthetics interest that Bacon's paintings provide, as material for future experiments?

We have based much of our argument on essential configurations that allow us to classify a stimulus as that of a face or a body, a theoretical construct that may yet lead to important experiments and insights. We have used previous results to show that distortions of that essential configuration results in a pattern of activation that is consistently different from the one obtained when viewing configurations that satisfy the template of what constitutes face or a body. We have argued that such departures can have consequences. One of these, which Bacon exploited, is that viewing configurations that depart from the essential configurations has, as a correlate, a strong activation of sub-cortical structures such as the amygdala and the insula, an effect that can be produced even when subjects are “unaware” of the stimulus; moreover, departures are resistant to adaptation, in that continual exposure does not diminish the response obtained from the DLPFC and parietal cortex, as repeated exposure to unusual human artifacts apparently does.

This raises a host of interesting questions. The first among them is related to the representation of faces, bodies and objects in the brain. Whether they are represented in discrete groupings within a larger cortical area or whether each of these categories is separately represented, Bacon's paintings raise the question of a separate and privileged access to the brain's emotional systems from the representation of faces and bodies compared to ordinary man-made objects. If so, it is likely that groupings or modules representing faces and bodies have different connections with the brain's emotional system, through routes that remain to be determined. Equally interesting in this context is that the representation of faces and bodies appears to be much more robust, which implies that there is less room for experience to modify that representation in the way that representation of human artefacts can be modified, a suggestion supported by the experiments of Chen and Zeki (2011). This implies that the connections of the latter are much more plastic than those of the former, making it interesting to uncover the different mechanisms that regulate plasticity in these different representations. This is also likely to be reflected in the mechanisms regulating the formation of concepts for different attributes. The enduring shock element in Bacon's paintings, even after repeated viewing, speaks in favor of a pronounced resistance to modifying the concept of a face or a body; by contrast, concepts of human artifacts are much more modifiable and less resistant to change. Hence, it follows that the determinants of concept formation are much less plastic for faces and bodies, the brain apparently not tolerating departures from a primitive significant configuration for them.

Next comes the question of routing of visual signals to and from a given area of the brain. It is important to realize that faces and bodies, whether ugly, neutral or beautiful, are processed through common structures—the OFA, the FFA and other areas detailed above. At some point in these pathways, a neural decision must be taken to forward the results of the processing to one part of the emotional brain or another. This raises the question “at what level, in the face and body processing pathways, is the routing of signals to one of the destinations made?” a question that applies equally to beautiful and ugly faces. It is also interesting to learn when and how signals are not routed to the emotional centers or routed to them without eliciting a strong and detectable response, as happens with neutral faces. This of course amounts to a neurobiological question of general interest, for all cortical areas have multiple inputs and outputs and whether all the outputs from an area are active when the area undertakes an operation or whether they are active only when the area undertakes a particular operation is an important question to address (Zeki, 1993). In our context, this can be more precisely formulated by asking whether departures in significant configuration in one direction activate certain outputs from the area while departures in the other direction activate other pathways.

This also raises the question of what constitutes, in terms of responses from a given area, say the FFA, a departure from an essential configuration, i.e., does it lead to an increase or decrease in firing of cells in the area or does it lead to a different pattern of active cells. In theory at least, it should be possible to study this by using imaging techniques that can determine whether the pattern of activity in a given area differs according to departures from the essential configuration.

Hence, Bacon's work raises a host of interesting and important problems, not only in the somewhat specific domain of the neural mechanisms regulating face and body perception but the more general neurobiological problem of what it is that determines the routing of signals to one destination or another, given that each area has multiple outputs.



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Conflict of Interest Statement:

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Received: 10 September 2013; accepted: 21 November 2013; published online: 10 December 2013




The Sacred and the Profane



His sexual relationships were characterised by violence and masochism, a darkness reflected in his most famous works, but, finds Julia Molony, Francis Bacon was a contradiction cruel and vain while also generous and blithe



ENIGMA: Dublin-born Francis Bacon was somewhat ascetic in his home and work life, but to the outside world he cut a decadent figure, the godfather of London bohemia and the man Margaret Thatcher called 'that awful artist who paints those horrible paintings'.

'I loathe my own face," said Francis Bacon. Whether that was a purely aesthetic judgment or the expression of something deeper, we shall probably never know. Though his paintings were consistently dark in character, Bacon himself was contrary and contradictory. He was troubled, but could be blithe, famous for his generosity but also his cruelty. His life was a big, decadent, glorious mess and he seemed to revel in it. Even his friends romanticised his poetic dissolution, one describing him as "a drunken, faded sodomite swaying nocturnally through the lowest dives and gambling dens of Soho". He suffered tragedy and mishap, violence and abandonment throughout his life, but remained, throughout, according to his sister Ianthe Knott, "a very, very collected man".

Margaret Thatcher called him "that awful artist who paints those horrible pictures", perhaps cementing his reputation as the god of London bohemia. Muriel Belcher – the infamous proprietress of the upstairs dive bar Muriel's on Dean Street in Soho – had the good sense to pay him £10 a night just to show up.

Last month, a triptych he painted of Lucien Freud – his colleague and rival – was the centre of a sale that broke all records, selling for $142m to become the most valuable piece of art ever auctioned. And though, no doubt, were he still alive, Bacon would have been pleased at the achievement this represented, he probably wouldn't have been impressed by the money.

He was not someone who valued money for its own sake, but rather treated it like a game. He was known for handing out fifties like smarties, dropping wads of cash into the laps of homeless people; he was fond of champagne and caviar, but lived simply in the small house in Kensington he moved into before he hit the big time. Donated to the Hugh Lane Gallery after his death, his studio in Dublin is exactly as it was when he inhabited it. Eight archaeologists have painstakingly preserved it, every scrap of paper's position recorded and replicated. His home was by no means lavish. At home, and at work Bacon was almost ascetic. But, out in the world, he was a peacock in leather jackets and bespoke Savile Row suits. He tended towards vanity, often wore make-up and used Kiwi boot polish on his hair.

"Whenever he came into a room, any room," Michael Peppiatt, his biographer has said, "you could feel the temperature go up. Suddenly there'd be a new vitality, with people outdoing themselves in talk and laughter and drink and general carrying on."

If he was socially uplifting, however, in intimate relationships he was demanding. Of the three loves of his life, one committed suicide in a Parisian hotel two nights before Bacon's history-making show at the Grand Palais, another drank himself to death. Only John Edwards, the handsome wide boy he befriended towards the end of his life, to whom he left all his money, endured unscathed.

Bacon was born in Dublin, where he stayed throughout his early years. He was a sickly child who suffered from asthma. His father was an Anglo-Irish Army officer. They were an emotionally remote, military-class Edwardian family. His father was distant and cold. His mother was more flamboyant, but nevertheless did almost nothing to encourage her son's interest in art. As a boy growing up between Ireland and England, the dark shadows of political hostility were cast over his upbringing. "I was made aware of danger at a very young age," said Bacon. Though perhaps he was attracted to it too – he famously declared that he lost his virginity by seducing a stable boy when he was just nine years old.

As a teenager, his father caught him trying on his mother's underwear and threw him out of the house. He responded by doing what any self-respecting young man of a sexually adventurous persuasion would do – he ran away to Paris, and then Berlin. Then, between the wars, Berlin was at the height of its reputation as a permissive playground for all-comers. Unique in Europe, the delights offered there included 170 licensed homosexual brothels. "After Berlin I was completely corrupted," Bacon said of the time.

Returning to London, he embarked on the life of a self-taught artist. In the early part of his career, he experimented with furniture design, creating carpets and painted screens.

It was a sexual relationship that led him to painting. He fell in with the Australian artist Roy De Maistre who re-directed his focus and is therefore credited as being "the man who taught Francis Bacon to paint".

It was in this phase of his life that Bacon worked as a rent boy to make ends meet. It wasn't, however, a professional path that stuck. "I should have been, I don't know, a con-man, a robber or a prostitute. But it was vanity that made me choose painting, vanity and chance," he later said.

Still, he was inexorably drawn to life's underbelly. He called it his "gilded, gutter life". His sexual tastes tended towards the masochistic and he seemed to be attracted to lovers who represented unpredictability, emotional extremes and risk.

Throughout all of this, the one constant was his most enduring relationship with his long-standing manager Valerie Beston, the woman who managed every part of Bacon's life, from buying his underwear to paying his rent.

She was a saint of constancy, waiting to stitch him up after beatings from rent boys, apparently keeping gambling money for him in the safe.

His sister, Ianthe has said of her: "Francis did once tell me, though, that Miss Beston had admitted to him that she was terribly in love with him. She declared herself. And Francis said, 'But you know what I am" and Valerie said, 'I do, but I don't mind.'"

Perhaps his sexual disinterest in her was a blessing. Melvyn Bragg said, "Francis tended to ruin his lovers." His first great love affair, with fighter pilot Peter Lacy was tempestuous and violent – so much so that Lacy eventually "hurled Bacon through a plate glass window", according to Bacon's friend and biographer John Richardson. "His face was so damaged that his right eye had to be sewn back into place."

Rather than treating the attack as a reason to leave, Bacon, ever the masochist, declared he loved him even more, rejecting concerned friends attempts to intervene.

"Unfortunately, drink released a fiendish, sadistic streak in Lacy that bordered on the psychopathic," Richardson wrote.

Still, when Lacy left him he continued to pursue his self-declared "desire to suffer" relentlessly, though he was candid about the destructiveness of this impulse. "Being in love in that extreme way," he said, "being totally obsessed by someone, is like having some dreadful disease. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.

This next big love, with George Dyer, began when the young Dyer tried to break into Bacon's house in Kensington. Instead of kicking out the thief, Bacon struck up an affair with him.

Their relationship too, was a theatre of cruelty. Friends recall the bullying and abuse that Bacon subjected the fragile Dyer to. According to Richardson, this was an integral part of Bacon's creative process. "Bacon would goad George into a state of psychic meltdown and then, in the early hours of the morning – his favourite time to work – he would exorcise his guilt and rage and remorse in images of Dyer aimed, as he said, at the nervous system."

This approach wasn't without consequence, however. In October 1972, Bacon was preparing to receive an honour that had been bestowed on only one other living artist – Picasso – an exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris.

The day before the exhibition, Dyer took an overdose of pills and died in their hotel room. Bacon, though devastated, still went to the opening night party. It was left, once again, to Valerie Beston to sort out the mess. Knowing that press coverage of the suicide would vastly overshadow the Grand Palais show, she arranged for the police to be called in private and for the whole matter to be dealt with as discreetly as possible until after the opening.

Was it any wonder, given all this, that Bacon's work dealt in moments of acute emotional crisis, in anguish and grim presentiments of death? He was known to destroy his own work in fits of drunken rage. But it was the shocking, screaming frankness of the work, that made it so sensational. He declared that he wanted to "remake the violence of reality itself".

His last relationship was, by all accounts, his least sexually charged but also the least emotionally turbulent. He was introduced to John Edwards a young cockney decades younger than him, by Muriel Belcher. Some who knew him have said that the relationship was based more on a paternal attachment than a carnal one, and indeed, Edwards himself has said that they were never lovers. That's not to say he didn't enjoy being treated like a trophy date. Edwards was 23 when they met in the Colony room in 1974. "He invited me to have lunch at Wheeler's, but it's a fish restaurant and I don't like fish, so he bought me some caviar," he said, of the first time they met.

Edwards saw himself as the artist's protector. "There were always lots of people around Francis on the cadge," he said. "But they wouldn't do it when I was around." Bacon painted around 30 portraits of John during their years together. "We'd talk about everything," Edwards said in 2002. "He was a beautiful man; you'd be hypnotised by him. He'd talk to you and you'd just want him to talk more."

When Bacon died in 1993, Edwards was the sole beneficiary of his estate, inheriting £11m.

It was less than a decade before Edwards passed away himself, in Thailand, where he lived with his new partner, Philip Mordue. When he died, only £800,000 of all the money he'd inherited remained. Feverish speculation remains as to what happened to the money, whether it was squandered by Edwards on champagne, or given away.




                                                            Dublin-born Francis Bacon was somewhat ascetic in his home and work life




Francis Bacon: exploring the horrors of Nazi imagery


Did the ‘power, violence and tragedy’ embodied in Nazi propaganda inspire Bacon’s art? 



In a 2009 article, Martin Hammer and Christopher Stephens proposed that Francis Bacon used Nazi propaganda images as ‘points of reference and departure for many pictures from the early 1940s to the mid-1950s and beyond’. They analysed certain early abandoned or overpainted works particularly effectively. The overpainted Figure Getting Out of a Car (c.1945–6) is related loosely to images of Hitler greeting crowds with handshakes. Its car is based on a specific photograph of Hitler saluting in his car at a Nuremburg rally. The Nuremburg colonnade at the top of that photo was cut out and copied in a strange early landscape with disruptive gestural marks that came on the artmarket in 2008.

Hammer and Stephens proposed that the overpainted Study for Man with Microphones (1946) was based on images of haranguing Nazi orators, and that the architectural lines of the Tate’s Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944) ‘conceivably’ came from Nazi architectural sources. The setting and swags of MOMA’s Painting (1946) were seen as alluding to similar overwheening Nazi imagery. Hammer and Stephens pursue Matthew Gale’s suggestion that the striated patterns of Bacon’s post-1949 settings derive from the vertical patterns of searchlights exploited at the Nuremburg rallies for grandiose effect. The references to Nazi imagery are found to be still there in the use of a Nazi armband in Munich Modern Art Gallery’s triptych Crucifixion (1965).

Essentially this research is the guts of Martin Hammer’s own new book Francis Bacon and Nazi Propaganda, expanded with Christopher Stephens’ approval and support to introduce much more loose comparative imagery, to study the sorts of magazines and tomes that Bacon may have seen, and to explore Bacon’s more general use of photographs and creative processes. Hammer somewhat qualifies the centrality of Nazi references by noting that the power, violence and tragedy evoked were more ‘backdrop’ for his themes of vulnerability and loneliness, for Bacon’s ‘desperate search for existential meaning in human relations and intimate couplings’. The young ambitious Bacon was minded to make reference to recent politics, but these were the very works that he soon refused to value or literally destroyed. Making a case for a specific content around Nazism in Bacon’s 1950s work is actually quite problematic.

One core issue of this specific example of iconographical art history is that, by traditional criteria, many of the proposed ‘sources’ are not close enough to stand up as proven, such as the claim with which the book opens that Eindhoven’s Fragment from a Crucifixion (1950) is based upon photographs of Hitler leaning and shaking hands from a train. The central issue elsewhere is a conflation and confusion of origination with final meaning. It is all very well to study a painting’s origins), but the final structured painted image (expressive meaning) is a different matter.

For example, the argument that Bacon’s Popes refer specifically to Nazism depends on our accepting that Bacon’s favoured striated settings mean Nuremburg’s ‘Cathedral of Light’ or that screaming mouths refer only to the secret terror of Nazi leaders. Figure Getting Out of a Car (c.1945-6) became not a triumphant Hitler but a grotesque monster before its jibe at Nazism was simply overpainted. With Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944), it is difficult to accept, even if the architectural lines were drawn from Nazi architecture, that they specifically signify that meaning in their final form. Hammer is aware of such transformations but often wants to imply a buried vestigial significance in the new image.

 The book is overlong, and there are methodological questions to be asked, but Hammer is always interesting on Bacon’s outlook and procedures. Those studying this period will want this book for its focused discussion of Bacon’s immersion in mass vernacular photography and of Bacon’s creative devices and processes. In fact, anyone interested in how cultural figures in the post-war period reacted to the revelations of Nazism’s horrors, in the aestheticisation that accompanied Nazi visual culture, and in Bacon’s own exploration of cruelty, animality, angst and anomie will surely want to own this book.

Francis Bacon and Nazi Propaganda by Martin Hammer is published by Tate Publishing, 2012. 224pp, 137 illus, mono illus, £19-99 ISBN 9781-84976-073-7







Andrew Barrow recalls an afternoon with Francis Bacon


Andrew Barrow looks back on a lively afternoon with Francis Bacon in 1975



Thirty-eight years ago I was a struggling writer still in my 20s. Francis Bacon was 66 years old and not only the most famous painter in the world but also a great London character. I had often seen him scurrying around South Kensington and Soho, always in a leather jacket, usually alone and occasionally fantastically drunk – but I had never spoken to him. On Saturday 22 February 1975 I emerged from San Frediano’s in Fulham Road after lunching with my old friend James Graham. At the same moment Francis Bacon shot out of another doorway with the portrait painter Robert Buhler, whom we both knew slightly.

Within seconds we were talking and Buhler had invited James and me to come along with them to the nearby Chelsea Arts Club, where more bottles of wine were opened and the poet Tambimuttu photographed me chatting with Bacon. An hour or two later Buhler had disappeared, leaving Bacon, James and me to fend for ourselves. Unable to find a taxi, James did his usual thing of stopping a passing car and asking its bemused occupant to give us all a lift to his new home in Knightsbridge.

James’s young wife seemed entirely equal to welcoming the world’s most celebrated living artist into her new home, and Bacon himself seemed sufficiently at ease to go upstairs to the bathroom, comb his famous kiss-curl and even shave with our host’s old-fashioned razor.

Later, Bacon and I left the house and hailed a black cab to take us to his home-from-home, the Colony Room in Soho. At the small first-floor club in Frith Street we were greeted by the famous Muriel Belcher from her seat inside the door. On this occasion Bacon did not come out with his famous ‘champagne for my real friends, real pain for my sham friends!’ but simply rapped out, ‘Bottle of champagne!’ to the barman. After helping him consume this – and another bottle – I tottered off to boast about my adventures to my current girlfriend, only to get reprimanded with the words, ‘You creep!’

In the years that followed I saw Bacon sporadically. My last sighting of the man Cecil Beaton said knew better than anyone ‘how to pick the scab off the wound of contemporary anxiety’ came in 1991 when I was heading up to High Street Kensington with my eight-year-old son, Nicholas. Bacon admired my son’s home-knitted jumper, and asked him where he got it. A year later Francis Bacon died suddenly in Spain, leaving the world and London a much less exciting place.



          Francis Bacon, left, talks to Andrew Barrow at the Chelsea Arts Club, in London in 1975










             — BROTHERS IN ARMS


“Bacon had seen how the Surrealists equated the desire to express something new

with the need to shock, and it was to form the core of his own artistic belief”


Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, 1997





At first glance these two paintings would appear to have little in common. In reality, both share not only the fact that they mark the maturation and, finally acclaimed, power of these two men in the World of art history, but are also both representing the same subject; that of expressing basic human emotion.

Mark Rothko and Francis Bacon were both born in the early twentieth century and lived traumatically unsettling lives. Each experienced not only personal anguish, but the anguish felt by the whole globe on witnessing the utter destruction and base nature of humanity displayed savagely through two, utterly hellish, World Wars and one, monstrous, atom bomb. Their final successes, the beginnings of which are portrayed here, stamp them in history to be two of the most emotionally charged Post-War artists in existence.

Their styles alien to one another, their effects intrinsically linked, both wielding their weapons of paint to pierce our souls and extract our emotion. Both paintings unlock our deep subconscious as well as releasing thoughts and feelings that often go unexplored.

Bacon's Study for Three Figures at The Base of a Crucifixion, with its terrifying and surreal beasts of misery, terror and despair, yanks us brutally by the hair, forcing us to confront the horror of the nightmares that we all have deep within us. For Bacon these creatures were inspired by the Furies from Aeschylus's The Oresteia, implying themes of sin and guilt, but this knowledge is not even required for our individual reaction. Bacon confronts us with the sense of the worst of images that occasionally flick into our minds at such times as when we hear incomprehensible accounts of man's capacity for utter evil, be it the holocaust, a rape, a child killer. When we find ourselves picturing unspeakable acts and we rapidly bury the images out of fear and a sense of guilt for even considering them. Such thoughts make us shudder, we never mention them, we quickly distract ourselves and feel relief that no one can read our minds, feeling grotesque for having the ability and fascination to visualise them. Bacon takes that perverse darkness and burns it into our memory with this savage triptych.

Bacon shocks us so profoundly by creating these three, trapped, menacingly tragic, surreal creatures that we believe exist as we feel their despair to our core. Their ambiguity makes us think about them, makes them exist in our mind, makes them real. These implacable images are made all the more powerful through his use of the unsettling expressionistic, visceral colour stimulating a deep and disturbing reaction.

Even before we view the painting the elegiac title alone creates a sense of foreboding, reverence, guilt and fear from the dire subject of the crucifixion that haunts any school child who was confronted with the horror of the crucifixion during religious teachings from an early age.

He takes this all too familiar concept and heightens our perception with creatures that surpass our wildest imaginations in depicting the sense of desolate, helplessness. Their elongated, bowing necks, their disabled bodies, vulnerability manifested through blindfolds, unjointed, useless or completely lacking limbs and their terrifying mouths that were to become an obsession throughout Bacon's works.

 Bacon's life itself was full of perverse brutality from being sadistically whipped as a sickly young boy on the orders of his militant father, to sadomasochistic homosexual lovers from a young age, sometimes leaving him fearing for his own life. When acknowledging these events, surrounded by the violence of the political unrest in his childhood Ireland and the destruction the two wars reaped on the architecture and fabric of British society, we can understand more the places where these disturbingly phallic, wretched beasts come from. Bacon unashamedly throws himself onto the canvas, he holds back nothing, protects us from nothing, just as he was made to toughen up as a child, we too must accept the horror behind the work and admit the truth of the depravity present in humanity.

A pre-World War Two public, however, did not seem ready to be confronted with such honesty, as we see demonstrated here by a critic for The Times 16th February 1934:

“The difficulty with Mr. Francis Bacon is to know how far his paintings and drawings – at the new Transition Gallery in the basement of Sunderland House, Curzon Street – may be regarded as artistic expression and how far as the mere unloading on canvas and paper of what used to be called the subconscious mind . As the later they are not much consequence – except by way of release to the artist.”

It is as though the images and nightmares of Francis Bacon's mind could only be appreciated by the World after the Second World War, suddenly the horrors lived in everyone's minds and the knowledge of the concentration camps adds a painful potency to the anguish one feels when looking at the work.

In the same way as Francis Bacon, Mark Rothko had never found the means to express his inner turmoil in a satisfactorily universal way until the Second World War had penetrated the minds of society. He too had witnessed brutal violence as a child, with the Cossacks persecuting the Jews in his birthplace of Dvinsk in Poland, and had grown up hearing the horror stories of mass graves and the executions of his contemporaries. He was however protected from direct persecution after being exiled to America before the First World War but he grew up living with a sense of alienation and fear of violence. However, when looking at the two works, it is clear that Rothko found a way to express his inner conflict at being a human in a very different manner.

On first glance of Untitled 1951-52, with its yellow luminosity and flat plains of colour, one would be forgiven for equating the following quotation to be more likely from Bacon than Rothko on his aims as an artist:

“I'm interested only in expressing basic human emotions – tragedy, ecstasy, doom....”

Rothko, unlike Bacon with his leading title and palpable creatures, has shed all that is tangible and completely cast aside objects, giving us no clue to his intended meaning. The only direction we get as a viewer is from the painting itself, from how it affects us when we connect with it. We struggle when using words to interpret a painting that is designed to transcend vocabulary and speak straight to a universal inner being. It would be easier to make a sound to convey how the blocks of colour make us feel than to articulate it, yet as we stare into the painting and react to its depth of colour, we know we are being communicated with but just not how.

We become like a newly born baby, blurry eyed, viewing the world through abstract shapes of colour, the difference being that we have a matured relationship and reaction to colour, we have had experiences of it in all its many forms throughout our entire lives and when we stare into the Rothko, our senses remember what has gone before and react accordingly.

The nuclear yellow strip across the centre, made all the more vivid from the frothing strip of red below, pulls us desperately towards the horizon. Its easy to see a foaming red sea, as the upper part of the canvas becomes a dark sulphur sky but then the skilfully soft edge put around the entire piece reminds us that we are just looking at blocks of colour but are reacting to it in an entirely new way:

It is through intense colour that we find another similarity between the two paintings. The burning orange of the Bacon creates a disturbing intensity, a vivid rage that contrasts with cold dead greys of the flesh. Rothko uses the mastery of contrast here too on an even greater level, an omnipotent energy comes from hot red radiating through the dirty yellow, interestingly switching the light in the bottom half as coming from red as opposed to the yellow of the horizon. We are then grounded by the melancholy bluey pool of the rectangle at the base. Contemplating the pool it becomes not blue or purple but more grey and again this searing red, it is like the contrast of a volcano with the inert plumes of dead ash atop of a mass of swirling, unimaginable heat and energy.

Such a subjective depiction feels entirely presumptuous when verbalised, particularly when comparing with the Bacon, who's emotion is so raw, forceful and undeniable that it is apparent even on a small reproduction, however, this is not the case for the Rothko who's presence can only be felt when stood up close in front of the large canvas. Once you leave Untitled 1951-52, the impression of it remains with you, its energy is imprinted just like that of the Study for Three Figures, but you find it much harder to understand why.

In 1949 Rothko saw Matisse Red Studio and finally he truly understood the visceral effect of liberating colour.

Rothko had been struggling to express his thoughts on the condition of humanity but in Untitled c1951-52 Matisse's violent red is used to stir something deep within our souls. We can feel it buried under the other colours and yearn for its ferocity and fortitude. This painting could be a metaphor for the surreal suburban America of the “Fabulous 1950s”. Rothko had miraculously survived unscathed when thousands of Jews had been viscously slaughtered. He had been transported to this strange, untouchable place, very different to Bacon's Britain all battered and bombed, financially stricken, mutilated war heroes a constant reminder. Bacon's surroundings matched his inner experiences but Rothko was an alien in a capitalist, bravado fuelled all American, baby booming wonderland. Industry, huge cars, technology, big smiles, painted white picket fences superseded the atom bomb. This painting with its eerily supernatural colours, masking the vengeance beneath. Rothko's red here is Bacon's Furies in Three Studies for Figures at the Base of the Crucifixion.

There are other things we can discuss to draw parallels with the works, both paintings have their own constructed movement. In the Rothko the vicissitude of the colours creates recession and expansion giving life and breath to the work, it shifts and radiates in front of us. In Bacon's the heat of the orange makes the cold figures droop and melt all the more, reinforced by the elongated hanging necks that contrast with the diagonal lines of perspective in the background. The strong upward shriek of the scream in the third beast, an agonising fight against its hunched body with the strange upward mass of the thorny shadow beneath it. The triptych canvasses move our vision from one to the next and back again in the same way as the blocks of colour in the Rothko, the large scale of both works pulls us, sucks us into the action.

What is of more interest and more thoroughly uniting than the techniques and execution of the works is the complexity of the thoughts and the depths of emotions that culminated in their creations. As Bacon states:

“the greatest art always returns you to the vulnerability of the human situation”.

Both paintings have progressed from the Surrealists fascination of unlocking the subconscious mind, on to unlocking and then extracting buried emotions, neither being satisfied with creating a merely hallucinogenic dreamlike depiction. Rothko said of Surrealism:

“The surrealist has uncovered the glossary of myth and has established a congruity between the phantasmagoria of the unconscious and the objects of everyday life. This congruity constitutes the exhilarated tragic experience which for me is the only source book for art. But I love both the object and the dream far to much to have them effervesced into the insubstantiability of memory and hallucination”.

The need for Rothko's “tragic experience” and Bacon's “brutality of fact” are the key to the successes of these works as, undeniably, is the timing of their creations. Without the wars the artists may not have had the emotional material to create them and many of the viewers would not have the depth of understanding to read them.

“Its the old idea of classical Greek theatre: the public came to experience feelings of terror and thereby purge their passions” Francis Bacon.

These are paintings that are beautiful yet terrible, they are disturbingly honest and make us look inside ourselves in a way that had not seemed possible before. They were not the first to react to and to depict man's brutality, it is a shameful recurring inevitability, and many artists have affected us and profoundly moved us with their works around the subject of war and tragedy. It is how Bacon and Rothko pierce so directly to our cores using their own completely intangible instinct, they have managed to express something so innately personal and inexplicable to themselves, a thing so honest and uncorrupted and pure that it becomes a universal truth and that is when art is at its most fine.







                                           Screaming nurse from Eisenstein’s film Battleship Potemkin —  Bacon became obsessed with this image








I Was a Portrait by Francis Bacon






MILAN — MY bookshelves have a bad habit: They eat books. Especially the books I care most about. My books seem to vanish, and where they’ve gone nobody knows. So I find myself buying the same book, once, twice, even three times in certain cases. One night not long ago, around midnight, I set out, unsuccessfully, to find the book of David Sylvester’s interviews with the painter Francis Bacon. I wanted to verify a quote I use frequently that I suspected might be his, a quote that exemplifies my view of life in general and, sadly, also the less-than-Apollonian way I run my own:

Symmetry kills.

When I wake up the next morning, I go into the bathroom and see, in the mirror, that my face has been transfigured into a portrait by Francis Bacon: the right half of my features sagging randomly, my mouth distorted, one nostril deformed but immobile, and an eye that refuses to shut. It scares me to death.

“Is this your idea of a joke, Francis?”

My face, which has fallen prey to some demented anamorphic projection, flashes me a sinister smile. Beneath the skin I sense fluttering brush strokes of nerve tissue, muscle bundles contracting in painful spasms, migrations of fleshy impasto heading north-by-northwest.

“How do you feel?” the emergency room doctor asks me.

“As if I’ve just swallowed a painting by Francis Bacon.”

He looks at me blankly — after all, this is before Bacon’s triptych of Lucian Freud sold at auction last week for a record $142.4 million.

“No need to worry, it’s just Bell’s palsy, an inflammation of the seventh cranial nerve. You’ll recover.”

I try to nod politely, as if to apologize for having such a shabby seventh cranial nerve, but can manage only another monstrous leer.

Art is an accident, the Francis of my imagination whisper.

How true. The mouth, the flesh, the butchery of the face that seems to have been ripped asunder from within — your obsessions, Francis. You used to say that you wished you could paint a mouth the way Monet painted sunsets, but you’ve never been capable of it. I see that now. My mouth looks like Henrietta Moraes’s, and my eye looks like Michel Leiris’s. They were your friends, and even they were less than flattered by the portraits you painted of them. But why me? Where do I come in? Why did you decide to colonize my face? Since when have you gone in for body art?

I’ve always admired your work, that astonished gaze of yours that delves deeper than surface appearance, your determination to uncover “that diamond hidden in the depths” of the ego, to borrow an expression from another genius, Milan Kundera.

You quote your genius, I'll quote mine: you kill the thing you love.

In my humble efforts as a writer, I’m trying to do more or less the same thing as you, if you’ll allow me the comparison. The reason I write is to unmask my characters. I prefer the word in English: “character” is so much more intimate than “personaggi,” an Italian word that derives from “persona,” Latin for mask.

Though I have to say, you’re being a little vindictive. All this, just because I let a friend borrow your book, and now I can’t remember who? Don’t you think you’re overreacting? You know perfectly well that I lend out only the books I love best.

I have no hostility toward my models.

Oh, really? Then you tell me what I represent right now? Is this grimace of disgust my essence, my true self?

You can’t create an image without having it produce a state of mind.

Fine, you’ve never wanted to indulge in facile psychologisms, you prefer the brutality of fact, but what good is the brutality of fact if you don’t use it to ask yourself questions? So let me insist: Just what is it that disgusts me, what frightens me, and who is twisting my soul? Is it me? Is it the world?

Art always takes you back to the vulnerability of human existence.

Well then, why isn’t the art-loving public admiring me in a triumph of empathy? After all, I am one of your creations, a minor work admittedly: absurd, anonymous and posthumous. Still, deformed as I am, I must be worth millions. With a face that’s no longer worth a plugged nickel as a face, should I just auction myself off?

People gaze at my new mask as if it is something out of Greek tragedy. I inspire two conflicting sentiments, but there are no words in Italian to express them: schadenfreude, a sort of delight in the misfortune of others, and pietas, Latin for a dutiful, respectful love.

I’m gruesome, but I am your masterpiece. Can you, at least, see me?

Two weeks later, the cortisone has made my cheeks swollen and puffy, “baby cheeks,” as my grandmother liked to say. Well, Francis, I see that you’re fine-tuning your creation. Are you happy now, “pudding face”? That’s what they used to call you when you were little, isn’t it? Don’t tell me it didn’t hurt your feelings. Now I not only resemble one of your paintings, I even look like your self-portrait.

When you paint something, you’re not just painting the subject, you’re painting something of yourself.

O.K., O.K. But couldn’t we per favore go back to something a little more representative, a little more Renaissance? Cecilia Gallerani, “The Lady With an Ermine,” or even the “Mona Lisa,” with her faint, mainstream smile — enigmatic, but at least reasonably symmetrical.

You say that we can’t go back to pure figurativism. That we’ve been through Caravaggio and Velázquez, Rembrandt and Impressionism and the various avant-gardes, and that even realism is no longer allowed to be realistic.

But listen, how about we make a deal. Tomorrow, I’ll buy another copy of your book, and you go do your installation on someone else’s face. I don’t want your art on me, I want my old life back.

Symmetry kills.

Did you say that, or did I? (Or was it someone else altogether?) Trust me, waking up with a deformed face is anything but fun. So let my soul remain twisted; let my neuroses get tangled up at night in the sheets, in contortions that only the steady purring of my cats can soothe; let me be the person I am. But give me back the fiction of my mask; permit me to go on acting in the social theatrics of daylight for a little while longer

For the first time, as I look into the mirror, my right eye — paralyzed for the past month — gives me an almost imperceptible wink.

Hey, you old drunk and disorderly Irish prankster and genius, do you mean that we have an understanding?

I just can’t say. I don’t know anymore if I can trust anyone — neither great artists, nor my friends, nor myself. I can no longer even say whether my admiration for Francis Bacon is anything more than its own miserable form of schadenfreude, a voyeurism that helps to exorcise deep-seated fears. Until one day, out of dumb luck or fate, you’re finally forced to look his portraits in the face.

The only thing I can think of to do is to go in search of a book of Botticelli’s works. The one with “The Birth of Venus.” I find it right away. No one has ever asked to borrow it, because in Italy beauty is falling apart, harmony is back numbered and grace has long fallen out of fashion.

Marina Mander is the author of the novel “The First True Lie.” This essay was translated by Antony Shugaar from the Italian





                                          A study for a portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne (1966)





FAQ: Why Does Francis Bacon's Art Auction Matter?






Three Studies of Lucian Freud, a triptych painting by the late British artist Francis Bacon, sold on Tuesday at a Christie’s auction in New York City for $142,405,000

It’s currently the most expensive piece of art ever auctioned, globally. And it was record-setting even before a winner was declared, with a prebid asking price of $85 million, the highest in auction history. Three Studies easily beat the former best-selling painting, Edvard Munch’s The Scream, which sold at Sotheby’s in New York last year for $119 million. Although to be fair, if you adjust for inflation, the Three Studies sale isn’t all that historic: Vincent Van Gogh’s Portrait of Dr. Gachet sold at Christie’s in 1990 for $82.5 million, which is roughly $149.5 million in 2013 dollars. Also, works in private auction regularly go for insane amounts, with the supposed record being Paul Cézanne’s The Card Players, which reportedly sold to Qatar’s royal family for more than $250 million in 2011 (nothing’s been made official on that one).

Who is Francis Bacon again? Isn’t he the guy who supposedly wrote all of William Shakespeare’s plays?

No, you’re thinking of the other Francis Bacon. But you raise a valid point. When a Pablo Picasso gets big auction numbers—such as $106.5 million for Nude, Green Leaves and Bust in 2010 or $104.2 million for Garçon à la pipe in 2004—it’s not as surprising. Even someone who’s never set foot in a museum knows Picasso’s name. Bacon takes some explaining; even among art lovers who recognize the Dublin-born painter, he can be controversial. Margaret Thatcher famously dismissed him as “that man who paints those dreadful pictures.” Jerry Saltz, writing for New York Magazine in 2009, described him as “an illustrator of exaggerated, ultimately empty angst.” Bacon’s most infamous work, Figure with Meat, is a reimagining of Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X but with more screaming and horror

Wait, wasn’t an Andy Warhol painting supposed to sell for a higher price this week?

There was speculation that Warhol’s Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster), up for auction at Sotheby’s, would inspire an equally staggering and historic bidding war. It sold for $104.5 million, which is still pretty impressive—it handily beat the previous Warhol auction record of $71.7 million from 2007.

Why did Three Studies of Lucian Freud sell for so much? What’s so special about it?

You need to know some of the history behind it, says Michael Peppiatt, an art historian, author (Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma), and curator of several Bacon exhibitions, including one in Rome that featured the Three Studies triptych. (A triptych, for the uninitiated, is a three-panel piece of art, a form that Bacon often employed.) Three Studies of Lucian Freud was painted in 1969 and features a sometime rival of the artist and the grandson of Sigmund Freud. “You have the greatest painter of the 20th century capturing another great painter,” says Peppiatt. Bacon painted other, and in Peppiatt’s opinion, more inventive and powerful triptychs. But Three Studies is unique, because anybody with enough money could have bought it. Pilar Ordovas, the former head of Post War & Contemporary Art at Christie’s London, claims it’s “one of the last, if not the last, Bacon triptych from the 1960s to remain in private hands.”

How much competition was there for Three Studies?

Very intense. It was standing-room only at Christie’s Rockefeller Center salesroom on Tuesday, and a Christie’s statement described the auction as “six minutes of fierce bidding.” Ordovas, who runs a private art gallery in London, was in attendance, and she was one of seven bidders vying for the piece. “It was incredibly exciting,” she says. “I was bidding on the behalf of a collector, and I almost didn’t get a chance to put my hand up.” She managed to get only one bid in, for just under $100 million dollars. “In my 14 years with Christie’s, I’ve never experienced anything like this,” she adds. “We’ll have to go a very long time before we see drama like this again.”

So who bought it?

Nobody knows, but there are rumours. Don Thompson, a Toronto-based economist and author of The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art, says that at least one serious bidder was Chinese. “The painting was originally listed as lot 32 in the catalogue, but they moved it up to lot 8A,” he says. “Apparently they had a Chinese bidder who was very interested, but he’d only bid if it was item No. 8, because 8 is a lucky number.” Most accounts from the auction claim that William Acquavella, a New York dealer, bought the painting on behalf of an unidentified client. Some people suspect that the client is Roman Abramovich, the Russian oligarch who purportedly bought another Bacon painting, Triptych, 1976, for a then-record $86.3 million in 2008. “Is Roman Abramovich the mystery buyer?” a Daily Mail story non-so-subtly speculated this week. Thompson has another theory. “My guess is it was the Qatar Museums Authority,” he says. “Acquavella has bid for them before.”

Do we at least know who sold it?

Not really. That information is also anonymous. We know that the three panels were separated for 15 years and individually owned by collectors in Rome, Paris, and Japan. And then the Rome collector—who may or may not be lawyer Francesco De Simone Niquesa, depending on whether you believe the rumours—bought the other two panels and reunited the triptych. Then he sold the entire set to a U.S. collector for an undisclosed sum, who decided, according to Brett Gorvy, chairman of Christie’s postwar and contemporary art department, that “it didn’t fit into his broader collection.”

Thompson has another theory. “It was a flip,” he says. “It was bought by a consortium of three European dealers eight months ago. I know how much they paid for it, but I can’t tell you.” That, he says, is what truly makes the sale remarkable. “It’s not only the most expensive auction item of all time; it’s also the most profitable flip of all time. It’s the only painting ever purchased for more than $40 million dollars that’s been sold at a profit.”

Are we going to see more big sales for Francis Bacon paintings?

Ordovas isn’t so sure. Although she says the market for Bacon’s work “is incredibly strong and international,” she doesn’t anticipate a gold rush on all things Francis Bacon. “This is not a price that is not going to be easily repeated.”

Bacon died of a heart attack in 1992, at 82 years old. Isn’t it kind of sad that he didn’t live long enough to see his art sell for hundreds of millions?

Peppiatt, who was friends with Bacon for almost 30 years, says that he “regrets that Bacon isn’t around to open the champagne.” (Bacon famously enjoyed consuming copious amounts of champagne during daylight hours.) But Bacon pretty openly detested the idea of art selling for exorbitant profits. As he once said, “Prices are so ridiculous that people go to galleries because they are obsessed by the money.”


Melvyn Bragg: My friend Francis Bacon, possessed by devils



He showered friends and strangers alike with £50 notes and champagne yet was fascinated by cruelty and violence.


Francis Bacon, whose £90 million painting broke auction records this week, was a man of obsessive extremes




So there they were in one of the world’s great auction rooms, together. Earlier this week, a painting by Francis Bacon set a world auction room record of £90 million. His subject in the triptych was his lifelong sparring partner and challenger Lucian Freud. They had shadowed each other for years, and now they were a record-breaking couple.

It was a combination made in Heaven for collectors of contemporary art. And Francis, as always, was in control.

I first set eyes on him in the Sixties, in what then seemed to me — raw from scholarshipped university and agape in the metropolitan globe of the arts — a house of dreams.

Magnificently located in Belgravia, vast, wallpapered with paintings, scandalously yet still tastefully wealthy in every rug, table and mirror, part old money, part new, crying out culture, blue with cigarette smoke and aristocratic blood, and crackling with the subterraneous dynamo of the love that dared not tell its criminal name but that scented the room pervasively.

And there, the very pope of it all, Francis Bacon. Looking around. Up for anything. For everything. The champagne flute, the cigarette, the deadly eye, that Teddy Boy quiff, and the archly falling love curl on his forehead. His slow Thirties upper-class drawl did not quite disguise the rumble of Irish violent sex in the stables of his boyhood.

These conflicting forces were always part of him, dandy and rake, the exquisite and the violent. You felt that his gaze was as much seeking opportunities for new excitements as for conversational companions.

We talked about Egyptian art. Yes, I truly remember. Partly because, over the years, he was to return to it again and again. It was the only great body of work he admired consistently and without qualification. When discussing it, he would clench his left fist and slam it onto the open palm and talk of its ferocity, its understanding of death, its inner grandness.

Then, after delivering a passionate but short polemic, he would, as he so often did, end with an abrupt change of mood and mincingly say: “Well, there you are, darling. That’s what I think. Cheers!” And take another sip and look around for the next bout.

Some years later, we met to talk about a film. It was before I made The South Bank Show with him. He declared that we would go to Wheelers in Old Compton Street where, it was rumoured, as a penniless arriviste in London of the Forties, he paid his bills in paintings.

That lunchtime, when I met Francis he was in flamboyant form. He had wadded himself with £50 notes. The moment we got through the door he began giving them away. One to the astonished cloakroom attendant — though he had no coat — another to a passing waiter; another to a pleasant-looking young man who had just come out of the gents’. And so we went upstairs, scattering a paper trail, to order from the encyclopaedic fish menu.

John Edwards, his lover, was with us. Francis was very proud of John. “He’s a real East Ender, you know,” he told me, “from Brick Lane”. Francis was eager to tell everyone that John had brothers who were boxers and others who got into less legitimate trouble. John was rather dark, in his early twenties, old-matinée handsome, with an easy smile and a very sweet nature. Francis was devoted to him.

On that day, John took the menu, which was immense, glanced at it for a second, and then snapped it shut. “I’ll have caviar and lobster,” he said. “That was quick,” I said. “I can’t read,” said John, “but they always have caviar and lobster here.”

He glanced across at Francis and smiled. “Francis is teaching me to write,” he said. Francis purred proudly.

I suspect that Francis was teaching John to write so that, years on, every penny of his fortune could be left to him. In my view, John was ruined by the waterfall of wealth that was to come, suffocated by the sudden dragons’ teeth of documents, and harassed by those who saw and lusted after the mountainous piles of money. He died a young man, having been bequeathed profligacy. But then, Francis tended to ruin his lovers.

On that day, many £50 notes later, we split up. John to a Soho dive for more drinks, Francis to a club to gamble, and me groping my way back home, hoping that Ariadne had done her job with the thread.

Unlike Lucian — who came to the end of his gambling when his great riches meant that losing £1 million in a single day made no difference — Francis never lost the umbilical tug to the tables. Chance was his god.

Chance turned his career. An unschooled, untutored painter in the south of France in the late Thirties, and crippled by debt, Francis could afford no canvases. In a bid to survive, he scored out the few he had and turned them over to paint on the back of them.

His gambling debts had given him a crucial gift. Chance, which he always followed, had delivered the aces. He fell in love with the reverse side of the canvas. He became obsessed by it.

The rough, unprepared, unpredictable surface that allowed for no neat rubbings-out was what he had been seeking. Here was something as intractable as him. Here you took your chance, and the first stroke had better be the best or you had to throw it away.

From then on, he was devoted to it, threw paint at it, sculpted lines on it, and slashed it to pieces if it didn’t do what he wanted.

He lived in a mews in Kensington, in a flat of three extremely modest rooms, which the increasingly wealthy painter never deserted. The studio itself could have passed as a slum. The walls, for many years, were his palette, smitten all over and crumbling and moulding with lumps of trial daubs of paint. The only clean thing in that heaped rubbish of books and paintbrushes and tins of paint was the white canvas.

Through the galley kitchen, the bedroom/sitting room was as grand as could be in that cribbed space. It was the place of a man whose life veered between monastic dedication and unlicensed hedonism.

Then there were the books. Francis was, in literature as in art, uninterested in anything but those whose force he could feel. In drama, it was the Greeks, and it was their cruelty, their violence, their terrible bleakness that attracted him.

In print, it was photographs. He had many, mostly of professional sportsmen. Boxers at the moment of impact, of a damaging punch to the jaw. Or a loose scrum of rugby players when all you saw were legs and buttocks and arms in the air, the upper bodies and faces buried in the mud. He used to look on these and other powerful images dotingly, as if shyly showing off a family album.

And then there was Muriel’s. This was a drinking hatch up an over-steep flight of cheap stairs in a street in Soho, which, in its early days, could easily be mistaken for a parlour of prostitutes. Muriel’s was of a different but allied stamp. It was an all-day and most-of-the-night drinking swamp, which roared through alcohol via a loud piano and a clientele crammed together in the delights of intensive louche cohabitation.

Francis was its star. In those days, in that place, the word “queen” was used with unconstrained joyous mockery. There was much bitching. But also high spirits.

And champagne. Wherever Francis went, champagne arrived, and he paid, the master of the revels. He sipped, he chatted in his usual way, now intense, now horribly sarcastic, spectacularly dismissive of all who rule over us and of most other artists. And now and then filling the room with his laughter. It was ripe. A few miles across town from Belgravia, but in essentials the same place.

He carried his own atmosphere around with him. Either you were attracted to it or its force pushed you away. When bored in Muriel’s, he used to take out a comb and carefully reset his gently rock’n’roll Fifties hairstyle or sneak a smear of baby oil to varnish his white skin. But it was always back to base at night. Up those stairs to his own flat, into the bedroom and then alert in the morning into his studio, where he painted until past midday.

Then he would go out for his one solid meal of the day — an Italian lunch with red wine. It was his armour for the adventure of whatever turned up next. “I am an optimist,” he said to me, “but about nothing.”

The last time I saw him was on the steps of the National Gallery in 1992, not long before he died. He was with a handsome young man, and both of them were wearing what shone out as unimaginably expensive new overcoats. Underneath, he would have been wearing his leather biker jacket (the leather of immaculate pedigree). He looked happy.

That sweet smile and pixie face well concealed the devils which earlier that morning would have possessed him in his studio as he strove to put his vision of the human body onto canvas with the force that held the truth. And perhaps there was a twinkle in his eye, anticipating more devils, a feast with Lucifer that evening.




        'He carried his own atmosphere around with him. Either you were attracted to it or its force pushed you away,' says Melvyn Bragg of Francis Bacon




When Lucian met Francis: Relationship that spawned most expensive painting ever sold



At $142m, Bacon's triptych of Freud is now the most expensive painting in history.

ADAM SHERWIN tells their story




When a mutual friend introduced Lucian Freud to Francis Bacon it seeded a competitive friendship between the two titans of 20th century figurative art, who made each other a favoured subject.

But while the relationship ultimately soured, its artistic legacy appears more potent than ever after a 1969 triptych of portraits by Bacon of his fellow artist became the most expensive work ever sold at auction, fetching $142m (£89m) in New York.

Three Studies of Lucian Freud, which depicts Freud seated on a wooden chair against an orange background, has overtaken the previous record set by Edvard Munch’s The Scream, which fetched $119.9m (£74m) at Sotheby’s last year.

Outstripping the $85 million which Christie’s had estimated, the piece was purchased by William Acquavella, Freud’s New York art dealer until his death in 2011, on behalf of an unnamed buyer, after a frenetic ten minutes of bidding.

Larry Gagosian, the art super-dealer who was among those outbid, said: “I went to $101 million but it hardly mattered.”

The highest price for one of Bacon’s works until now was $86.3m, paid by the Russian businessman Roman Abramovich in 2008, for a 1976 triptych.

A spokesman for Abramovich declined to comment when asked if he had added "Three Studies…" to his collection.

Bacon, famed for his triptychs, painted the panels in 1969 at London's Royal College of Art, after his studio was destroyed in a fire.

Experts said the triptych showed the intimacy which developed between the two giants of British post-War painting, 24 years after they were introduced by the Irish artist Graham Sutherland.

Francis Outred, head of Post-War and Contemporary Art, Europe at Christie's, described the work as a “true masterpiece and one of the greatest paintings to come up for auction in a current generation”.

He added: “It marks Bacon and Freud's relationship, paying tribute to the creative and emotional kinship between the two artists.”

The artists forged a close bond when Sutherland invited Bacon, then 36 and Freud, 23, to spend the weekend at his country house in 1945. Meeting first at the railway station, Freud later recalled: “Once I met him I saw him a lot.”

At one point, they met on an almost daily basis, frequently at their favourite watering hole, the Colony Room in Soho and the pair painted each other on several occasions.

Freud first sat for Bacon in 1951 and was fascinated by his friend’s approach to portraiture. Bacon’s representation of Freud at this sitting more closely resembled a photograph of Franz Kafka which had been lying on the floor of the older man’s studio.

The following year Bacon “grumbled but sat consistently” over a three-month period at Freud’s behest for a portrait bought by the Tate but subsequently stolen in 1988 while on loan to an exhibition in Berlin. A second Freud portrait of Bacon, painted in 1956, left unfinished after Bacon abandoned the sitting, was sold at Christie's in London for £5.4m in 2008.

Freud, famous for his nudes, cited Bacon’s influence as a reason for his decision to adopt a more spontaneous approach to painting, standing at an easel and using thicker hog’s hair brushes. Freud would praise Bacon for “packing a lot of things into one single brushstroke.”

Notorious for his bitter feuds, Freud fell out with Bacon in the mid-70s after an argument. Frequently broke in his youth, the Irish-born Bacon came to resent Freud’s snobbery and his love of old-fashioned, high society.

Just four portraits of Freud by Bacon have sold at auction in the past 20 years. In 2003, a small triptych was bought for $3.8m (£2.2m).

The Three Studies panels had been separated for fifteen years following sales in the 70s. They were united again by a collector in Rome who sold them to an anonymous US-based collector who put the artwork up for auction at Christie’s.

Since Abramovich’s pre-credit crunch $86m purchase, there has been a dearth of major works by Bacon, who died in 1992, on the market.

Ben Street, an art historian, told The Independent:  “This is not an A-grade Bacon; it shouldn’t have gone for $142m. It may have gone for so much because there aren’t that many big Bacons still available.”

Mr Street added: “The market is so insatiable. If something becomes available, especially something large, everyone goes bonkers. This is a well behaved Bacon, it’s neat. It’s not dark and crazy like he can be when he’s really good.”

Although their friendship was sundered, Freud maintained his admiration for Bacon’s artistic achievements. “Francis Bacon would say that he felt he was giving art what he thought it previously lacked,” he once said. “With me, it's what Yeats called the fascination with what's difficult. I'm only trying to do what I can’t do.”

The triptych is not the most expensive painting ever sold. Cezanne’s The Card Players was sold privately to Qatar royal family for £160 million last year.

The Christie’s auction did break the world record for a price paid for a single artwork by a living artist. Jeff Koons’ sculpture Balloon Dog (Orange), one of a series of five stainless steel sculptures in varying colours, fetched $58,4m (£36.7m).

The previous record for a living artist was set by a Gerhard Richter painting depicting an Italian city square, which sold in May for $37.1 million (£23.3m).

Christie’s had stoked up interest in the New York sale, hailing it as a landmark event with a greater number of paintings and sculptures estimated to sell for over $20 million than it had ever had before.





              Despite their bitter feuds, Freud maintained his admiration for Bacon's work







Francis Bacon's painting of Lucian Freud is a portrait of two geniuses




The 1969 work is worth every cent of the record-breaking $142m it fetched at auction in New York




It was a big night for British art. Once, the painters of these rainy islands were regarded as dreary throwbacks while all the glamour and fame went to modern Europeans and Americans, from Edvard Munch to Andy Warhol.

But on Tuesday evening at Christie's in New York, a triple portrait by Francis Bacon of his friend and peer Lucian Freud sold for $142m (£89), stomping all over the record auction price of $119m (£74m) paid last year for Munch's Scream.

There can be no doubt the night belonged to Freud as well as Bacon. When he sat for Three Studies of Lucian Freud in 1969, this painter of harshly real faces and bodies in sparse London rooms was ever so slightly in Bacon's shadow. Now they orbit one another as the two great British artists of the 20th century, and probably will always be grouped in art history as blunt individualists who defied the supposed inevitable progress of the readymade to paint like modern reincarnations of Velázquez.

The art market is notoriously fickle. This record will be broken, just as Munch's has been. Auctioneers themselves admit that prices are influenced by such bizarre factors as the use of certain colours – this painting is heavy on the Van Gogh yellow. But sometimes, this less-than-rational market gets it right. Bacon is the real thing, and so is Freud. This is a portrait of two geniuses.

Bacon does not paint like a worthy avant garde follower of Matisse or Cezanne. He paints as if he were trained in an Old Master workshop 400 years ago then somehow torn through time into the modern age. Driven mad by the temptations and terrors of the 20th century, his brush creates horrific wounds and knotted masses of flesh with a disturbingly gorgeous painterly texture. It's easy to see why someone would pay tens of millions to have these inside-out Titians on the wall. Bacon's paintings are perversely luxurious. They drip with opulent colour and a velvet magnificence. The pain and brutality that punches through them heightens their strange beauty.

In his triple portrait of Freud he uses the archaic format of the gothic triptych to give the image a three-eyed variety and terrible authority. In the middle ages, many-panelled paintings were hunged so they could fold in and out to tell a religious story.  Bacon, who was proud of his Irish origins although he spent his entire career in London, was fascinated by the Christian nature of the triptych. It gave him something to desecrate. From his 1940s masterpiece Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion to Triptych August 1972, in which he broods on the suicide of his lover George Dyer, a violent vision of a godless universe poisons Bacon's triptychs.

Lucian Freud sits in Bacon's despairing, yet monstrously vital universe, his face taken apart and remade by Bacon's brush. He poses in a white shirt, moving about, full of energy. For both of them art is an act of cruel love. You take someone apart on the canvas to know them from the inside.

Bacon is worth every cent. As he used to say when he was buying the drinks, "Champagne for my real friends – real pain for my sham friends!"



Bringing home the Francis Bacon





As Francis Bacon's Three Studies of Lucian Freud is bought at auction in New York for $142.4m (89.6)  the most expensive artwork ever auctioned  I can't help thinking: who is this "an unnamed buyer"?

In my imagination I see him on the phone, murmuring to his art dealer, William Acquavella, "Go to 150, Bill, but not a nickel more," before replacing the receiver, restoring the huge Romeo y Julieta between his lips, sipping his 1811 Napoleon brandy and essaying a thin smile of triumph that nobody will gaze on the triptych but he.

What's he like, this anonymous buyer of all the artworks auctioned worldwide at stratospheric sums, shipped to his subaquatic cave and displayed in a giant art gallery for his eyes alone to inspect and consume?

Can't some enlightened wiki-hacker or cyber-leaker find out, so we can all go round to his place one day and throw rocks at him?




Francis Bacon and Jeff Koons

masterpieces sell at record prices




One-of-a-kind pieces by acclaimed artists FRANCIS BACON and JEFF KOONS have sold at record-breaking prices, each raking in millions of pounds.

The painter's Three Studies of Lucian Freud is considered one of Bacon's greatest masterpieces, and an anonymous buyer is now the lucky owner of the painting, after topping bids at a New York auction.

The triptych, which Bacon completed in 1969, went under the hammer for £89 million at Christie's, becoming the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction, surpassing a record set last year (2012), when Edvard Munch's The Scream sold for £74 million.

Meanwhile, pop artist Koons' 12-foot-tall (3.6 meters) stainless steel balloon dog sculpture, sold for £36.7 million, at Christie's on Tuesday night (12 Nov 13). It becomes the highest sum ever paid for a work by a living artist.

Balloon Dog (Orange) is made to resemble the type of inflatable toy a clown would make at a children's party, and is one of five identical sculptures, with other primary colours in the series.

Koons recently collaborated with Lady Gaga for her ARTPOP album cover, for which he created a nude sculpture of the Applause hitmaker in front of a blue sphere.

On Sunday (10Nov13), the pair reunited at her artRave party in Brooklyn, New York, where she celebrated the release of her new record and also unveiled an installment of works by Koons, which included the 3D version of the ARTPOP cover sculpture.




Who'd want to bring home a Francis Bacon?



As the artist’s triptych of Lucian Freud breaks auction records,

Mark Hudson asks what it tells us about the art world – and ourselves






Who would have thought that the highest price ever paid for a painting at auction would be for a triptych by an artist whose work is not by any conventional standard beautiful, who concentrates remorselessly on the dark side of existence, and whose personal life was a catalogue of voluntary violent sexual abuse? The answer is, just about everyone.

From the beginning of his career in the Thirties, Francis Bacon went from being a marginal outsider figure, whose dark, claustrophobic and uncompromisingly bleak canvases were appreciated only by a tiny avant garde coterie, to his current position, established largely since his death in 1992, as “unquestionably the greatest British artist of the 20th century”.

The work for which nearly £90 million was paid by a New York dealer on behalf of an anonymous buyer – at Christie’s in Manhattan, on Tuesday – is a triptych portrait of Bacon’s close friend and fellow artist, Lucian Freud. It’s a work that gives us two geniuses for the price of one. Yet the status of Freud, regarded as Britain’s greatest living artist over the latter part of his life, pales into insignificance beside the sheer magnitude of Bacon’s current stature.

The prices paid for works of art at this level are, of course, beyond rationality, bearing no relation to inflation, the value of the components or even the concrete notion of investment – or certainly not in the short term. This kind of art buying has no relation to anything other than itself. But if you did have bottomless coffers and the desire to dispense some of their contents on a single object, why wouldn’t you go for something that embodies a chunk of what we sometimes still call “civilisation”, which sums up some of the things we think of as ennobling humankind as a species?

The fact that we now invest such qualities in a painting by an artist whose work was thought of by the man in the street for much of his career as “like sick on the carpet”, and who happened to enjoy being violently raped, tells us a great deal about our changing attitudes towards what used to be called “beauty” and to what we value in art.

I remember the peculiar atmosphere that came with the name Francis Bacon when I first encountered it, at the age of about 12: uttered by my mother, Bacon’s name brought with it a sense of difficulty and edge, of embodying troubling things about the adult world that piqued my childish curiosity. It was an ambience very different from the one surrounding the man then deemed “unquestionably the greatest British artist of the 20th century”, the avuncular Yorkshire sculptor Henry Moore.

Both artists are closely associated with the aftermath of the Second World War. Out of the horror of that conflict and the disclosure of the death camps, which trampled on every last vestige of human decency, Moore created his Family Groups, abstracted figures that sought to elevate one of the simplest and most enduring elements of human existence: the family.

Bacon’s brutal nihilism, on the other hand, came close to identifying with the oppressor. The painting that made his reputation, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, shows three mutated, sightless figures howling in agony, terror or rage – or is it aggression? As with so much in Bacon’s work, it is difficult to say precisely what is happening, except that it patently offers naught for your comfort.


In Bacon’s trademark images of isolated men, the violence of his painterly technique seems to embody some oppressive violating power of which his homoerotic vision stands in awe. All his figures, whether imagined, drawn from his treasury of images – from boxers to war victims – or from people he knew – lovers, friends or heiresses – are imbued with the same quality of deadpan existential despair. This cosmic bleakness has gone beyond being something to be admired in terms of technical brilliance, or appreciated as an aspect of an era: it has become – exemplified by Monday night’s sale – a quality of spiritual aspiration.


When the poet Charles Baudelaire wrote his 1863 essay “The Painter of Modern Life” – a sort of manifesto for the modernist era – he referred to what we would today call aesthetics as “beauty”. At that time, it went without saying that beauty aspired towards, well, the beautiful, which in turn reflected Platonic ideals of moral value.


Since then, every verity of the preceding thousand years has been stood on its head. Against serenity we have come to prefer dynamic chaos; against smoothly evolved forms we like powerful abstraction; against supposedly universal truths we opt for ambivalence; we sneer at the goodies, and get a vicarious thrill from rooting for the baddies.


During the Sixties and Seventies, with our increasing tolerance for extreme violence in the cinema exemplified by films such as Straw Dogs and A Clockwork Orange, the popularity of Bacon’s paintings, with their relentless screaming faces – inspired by the famous bullet-in-the-eye shot in Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin – inexorably rose in popularity, and have continued to do so.


The response to a current exhibition at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum, pitting Bacon against his old rival Henry Moore, is instructive. Where 40 years ago Moore would have been considered much the greater artist, now it goes without saying that Bacon, the homosexual Anglo-Irish rebel, will win out over the establishment figure Moore.


Yet the veneration of Bacon the bad boy artist has become a lazy orthodoxy which obscures our sense of what is and is not of value in his work. Reading reviews of the Oxford show, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was Bacon’s status as a maverick that was up for discussion rather than the quality of his paintings, and that it had won him the tournament with the hapless Moore before the critics had even got off the train from London.


I’m not out to denigrate Bacon. Far from it. His early work is his best, and at its best it is fearsomely good. But I’m not sure the painting on which nearly £90 million was spent on Monday night falls into that category. The best of Bacon takes you to a terrifying place where, down among the spilt fluids and debased flesh in his claustrophobic rooms, you realise that at the base of existence there are no redeeming factors – that life doesn’t have what Albert Camus called “une morale de boy scout”. Bacon’s pitilessness was a revelation in its time.


Yet over a career spanning 60 years its single note became monotonous. Much of his later work is mannered and repetitive. The savagery of his brushwork appears spontaneous, but it was always carefully controlled. There’s nothing wrong with that per se: that is artistry. But Bacon’s painting became progressively a matter of rolling out well-rehearsed stylistic tics with no real development.


Meanwhile, the rest of us who are not extremely wealthy single male artists, like Bacon, have to get on with the business of life in the knowledge that there may not be an easy moral at the basis of existence, let alone a god, but that there are many redeeming factors.


Bacon was too astute to allow the King Lear-like hopelessness of his vision to appear self-indulgent. But he has limitations as an artist that are likely to become apparent long before the buyer of Three Studies of Lucian Freud sees the chance of a return on their investment.









Francis Bacon's triptych of Lucian Freud portraits sells for record price at $142



The 1969 triptych sells for $142.4m (£89.6m) at Christie's in New York, breaking record set by Edvard Munch's 'The Scream'



A 1969 triptych of portraits by Francis bacon, of his friend and fellow artist Lucian Freud, has become the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction.

According to the New York Times, the piece was purchased by art dealer William Acquavella on behalf of an unnamed client for $142.4m (£89.6m) at Christie’s in New York on Tuesday, following a bidding battle between seven prospective buyers.

Three Studies of Lucian Freud which depicts Freud seated on a wooden chair against an orange background, thus overtakes the previous record set by Edvard Munch’s The Scream, which fetched almost $120m at Sotheby’s last year. The highest price for one of Bacon’s works before now was $86.3m, paid by the Russian businessman Roman Abramovich in 2008, for a 1976 triptych.

Several other pieces by celebrated contemporary artists were due for sale in New York this week, with 12 of them predicted beforehand to go for more than $20m: the highest-ever concentration of such major works. On Tuesday evening at Christie’s alone, 10 artists attracted record prices for their works, including Willem de Kooning and Jeff Koons, whose sculpture Balloon Dog (Orange) fetched $58.4m, a world record for a single artwork by a living artist.

The previous holder of that title was German artist Gerhard Richter, whose 1994 Abstract Painting, from the collection of musician Eric Clapton, was also featured in the auction, fetching almost $20.9m. On Wednesday night at Sotheby’s, Andy Warhol’s arresting 1963 painting, Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster), is expected to sell for as much as $80m. The current record for a Warhol is $71.7m.

Christie’s did not disclose the name of the seller of the six-foot-high Bacon triptych, which was estimated before the sale at $85m. The work had previously passed through the hands of a Rome-based collector, who purchased one of its panels in the 1970s and spent the subsequent 20 years tracking down and securing the remaining two. Freud, who died in 2011, was also the subject of a second full-length Bacon triptych, painted in 1966. That work, however, is missing.



                                                            Three Studies of Lucian Freud by Francis Bacon


Francis Bacon triptych smashes art auction record


Three Studies of Lucian Freud by Francis Bacon sold for $142m (£89.3 million) after being given an estimated price of $85 million





A painting by Francis Bacon of his friend Lucian Freud has set a new world record price for an art auction, after selling for $142.4 million (£89 million).

Three Studies of Lucian Freud, which was painted in 1969, sold on Tuesday at a Christie’s postwar and contemporary sale in New York. It had been given an estimated price of $85 million (£53.5 million).

After 10 minutes of frantic bidding between seven hopefuls, its price easily exceeded the $120 million paid for Edvard Munch's The Scream at a sale in 2012, which was previously the highest ever paid for art at auction.

It also broke the previous record price for the work of a British artist, which was set by the sale of Bacon's own 1976 Triptych for $86 million in 2008 to Roman Abramovich, the Russian tycoon.

Francis Outred, the head of post-war and contemporary art for Christie’s Europe, had described the 1969 piece as a “true masterpiece that marks Bacon and Freud’s relationship”. The pair had been friends and rivals since the mid-1940s. Bacon died at 82 in 1992; Freud died last year aged 88.

The three panels were separated for 15 years after different sales in the 1970s to collectors from Rome, Paris and Japan. However they were later reunited when the collector in Rome bought the other two.





Francis Bacon painting goes for massive $142 million making

 it the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction


The 1969 triptych, never before offered at auction, carried a pre-sale estimate of about $85 million ahead of the Christie's sale




Francis Bacon's three-paneled painting 'Three Studies of Lucian Freud' became the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction on Tuesday when it soared to $142.4 million at Christie's

The 1969 triptych, never before offered at auction and which carried a pre-sale estimate of about $85 million, easily eclipsed the $119.9 million price of Edvard Munch's 'The Scream,' achieved in May of last year at Sotheby's

The painting sold after a protracted bidding war in the packed New York salesroom and via telephone. Christie's did not disclose the identity of the successful buyer.

The art work along with one by Andy Warhol were expected to break records, boosting an already surging market for top-tier works. Christie's sale on Tuesday was led by Bacon' 1969 triptych.

The jaw-dropping price easily broke the $86.3 million Bacon record set in 2008, months before financial markets crashed and sent the art market into a brief decline. Since then, new, deep-pocketed collectors from around the globe have driven prices to record levels.

At a recent preview, Christie's head of postwar and contemporary art, Brett Gorvy, noted that collectors from Asia, Russia and the Mideast flush with cash were determined to assemble world-class collections featuring trophy works. In May, Christie's achieved the highest total in the history of auctions when it sold $495 million worth of art at its postwar and contemporary sale.

The auction house said Bacon's three-paneled work, which depicts the Dublin-born painter's friend and fellow artist Lucian Freud on a chair, with a view from each side and one face on, was 'a true masterpiece that marks Bacon and Freud's relationship' and their 'creative and emotional kinship.'

'The juxtaposition of radiant sunshine yellow contrasting with the brutal physicality and immediacy of the brushstrokes in this celebrated life-size triptych is what makes Bacon's art so remarkable,' said Francis Outred, the head of European postwar and contemporary art for Christie's. 'This suddenly becomes a very important conversation between two masters,' Outred said in an interview.

He noted that 'Three Studies of Lucian Freud' is one of only two existing full-length triptychs of Freud, a grandson of the founder of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud, and that the three panels were separated for 15 years in the 1970s before being reunited.

Christie's also offering a Warhol 'Coca-Cola,' which carries an estimate of $40 million to $60 million, and a sculpture by Jeff Koons, 'Balloon Dog (Orange)' expected to fetch $35 million to $55 million.

On Wednesday, Sotheby's will try to break the $71.7 million record price for a Warhol when if offers the monumental 'Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster),' which has an estimated sale price.



New record: The jaw-dropping price easily broke the $86.3 million

      Bacon, pictured, record set in 2008, months before financial markets crashed and sent the art market into a brief decline



Francis Bacon paintings of Lucian Freud sell for record $142.4m


Three Studies of Lucian Freud, a triptych from 1969, eclipses Munch's The Scream as most expensive work ever auctioned


Reuters in New York The Guardian Wednesday 13 November 2013

Francis Bacon's 
three-panelled painting Three Studies of Lucian Freud has become the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction, soaring to US$142.4m at Christie's.

The 1969 triptych, never before offered at auction, had carried a pre-sale estimate of about $85m. In the end it easily eclipsed the $119.9m price of Edvard Munch's The Scream, achieved in May 2012 year at Sotheby's. The previous record for a Bacon work of art was $86.3m set in 2008.

The monumental painting depicts the Dublin-born painter's friend and fellow artist Lucian Freud on a chair, with a view from each side and one face-on. Christie's called it "a true masterpiece that marks Bacon and Freud's relationship" and their "creative and emotional kinship".

With bidding starting at a whopping $80m, it sold after a protracted bidding war both in the packed New York salesroom and via telephone. Christie's did not disclose the identity of the successful buyer.

Three Studies of Lucian Freud is also one of only two existing full-length triptychs of Freud, a grandson of the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, and the three panels were separated for 15 years in the 1970s before being reunited, Christie's said.

The auction set another significant record, for a price achieved at auction by any living artist, when Jeff Koons's large sculpture Balloon Dog (Orange) fetched $58.4m, beating the high pre-sale estimate and smashing the old mark for a living artist of $37.1m set by Gerhard Richter's Domplatz, Mailand (Cathedral Square, Milan) earlier in 2013.

Auction officials have said that new, deep-pocketed collectors from around the globe are driving prices for top-tier works to record levels.

At a recent preview Christie's head of postwar and contemporary art, Brett Gorvy, noted that collectors from Asia, Russia and the Middle East flush with cash were determined to assemble world-class collections featuring trophy works.



                                                        Three Studies of Lucian Freud  (1969) Francis Bacon



Bacon's Freud work sold for £90m





A Francis Bacon portrait of his friend and fellow painter Lucian Freud has become the most valuable work of art ever sold at auction - fetching almost £90 million in just six minutes of frantic bidding.

The work, which brings together two of the greatest names in the British art scene, went for 142,405,000 US dollars (£89,609,283) at the sale in New York.

The three-panelled painting, called Three Studies of Lucian Freud, depicts the German-born British artist sitting on a chair from three different angles and has never been offered for sale before.

The painting's three separate panels were split up shortly after it was completed in 1969 and only brought back together as one work in the 1980s.

The pair, who were friends and rivals, are regarded as two of the modern masters of British art.

Bacon, who died in 1992, also sat for a portrait by Freud but it was stolen during an exhibition in Germany and has never been seen since.

Freud died in 2011.

"Three Studies of Lucian Freud, executed in 1969, is a true masterpiece that marks Bacon and Freud's relationship, paying tribute to the creative and emotional kinship between the two artists," Francis Outred of Christie's Europe said.

"The juxtaposition of radiant sunshine yellow contrasting with the brutal physicality and immediacy of the brushstrokes in this celebrated life-size triptych is what makes Bacon's art so remarkable.

The record price is more than double that of Bacon's second most expensive piece of artwork.

Triptych, 1976, was bought for £43 million in 2008 by Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich at an auction by Sotheby's in New York.

The auction also saw another record set when Jeff Koon's monumental sculpture Balloon Dog (Orange), achieved went for 5 8,405,000 US Dollars ( £36,795,150) a new world auction record for a living artist.








Francis Bacon Painting Breaks Auction Record, Sells for $142 million





Last night, Francis Bacon’s 1969 painting Three Studies of Lucian Freud became the most expensive piece of art ever sold at auction. After six minutes of bidding at New York’s Christie’s auction house, an unnamed bidder emerged victorious with a bid of $142,405,000. (Apparently, the bid of $142,405,001 came in too late.) This surpasses the previous record of $120 million that Edvard Munch’s The Scream set in 2012.

(We should note that this record is only for auction, as a version of Cézanne’s The Card Players reportedly sold for upwards of $250–300 million to the nation of Qatar.)

The piece itself is noteworthy for being particularly bright for Bacon, and for featuring another legendary artist, Freud, as the subject of the painting, at the height of their friendship (and possibly “friendship”).

We can’t help but think of all the actual bacon that person could’ve bought for that money, but that’s just because it’s breakfast time.




                           Hey, it’s only like $47 million per panel. 



Why Francis Bacon deserves to beat The Scream's record-breaking pricetag



Is Bacon's three-panel portrait of Lucian Freud about to fetch the highest price ever for a painting at auction, beating the $120m paid for Munch's masterpiece?



If any artist is worth a lot of money it is Francis Bacon. Looking at his paintings in Tate Britain, I am hit in the face by their brilliance. One gallery contains such famous works as David Hockney's painting Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy and Anthony Caro's Early One Morning. Yet every single thing here wilts in the baleful glare of Bacon's Triptych 
– August 1972, a painting with the darkness of Caravaggio, the curves of Bernini, and the brutal passion of a criminal Titian. 

Bacon is a great artist, and Christie's is putting big money on that greatness. The auction house expects to make at least $85m (£53m) when another of his triptychs goes on sale this evening. The New York sale is aiming to outdo the record-making $120m price recently paid for Munch's Scream – but is Bacon that appealing to art collectors?

One thing is obvious if you take a glance at the art market and its mega-sales. Collectors are idiots, and auctioneers know it. They report that prices are seriously influenced by how much red or gold is in a picture. Think about it: you have tens of millions to spend on art and you allow yourself to be influenced by ... its colour. How dumb is that? What does it say about the vacuous tastes of art's new plutocrats?

The Bacon triptych is unusually bright for him, with big passages of yellow. Yet the big selling point is surely its content. With this work, you get two modern greats for the price of one. It is a portrait of Lucian Freud, who stands with Bacon as a modern master of the painter's art. Freud and Bacon had an intense friendship, fraught with rivalry yet also, it is said, sexually charged. One of the reticent Freud's most public gestures was to make a Wanted poster for his own portrait of Bacon after it was stolen in Berlin. This moving poster was suggestive of how much he felt for Bacon, as well as for that little painting.

Freud is today at least as revered as Bacon. Both of them deserve the fame. So maybe Christie's is right and Three Studies of Lucian Freud presses all the buttons to make obscene amounts of money. Bright colours and famous names – it's as profound as that.



At $142.4 Million, Triptych Is the Most Expensive Artwork Ever Sold at an Auction




It took seven superrich bidders to propel a 1969 Francis Bacon triptych to $142.4 million at Christie’s on Tuesday night, making it the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction. William Acquavella, the New York dealer, is thought to have bought the painting on behalf of an unidentified client, from one of Christie’s skyboxes overlooking the auction.

The price for the painting, which depicts Lucian Freud, Bacon’s friend and rival, perched on a wooden chair, was more than the $85 million Christie’s had estimated. It also toppled the previous record set in May 2012 when Edvard Munch’s fabled pastel of The Scream sold at Sotheby’s for $119.9 million and broke the previous record for the artist at auction set at the peak of the market in May 2008, when Sotheby’s sold a triptych from 1976 to the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich for $86.2 million.

When the bidding for Three Studies of Lucian Freud finally stopped, after more than 10 fraught minutes, the overflowing crowd in the salesroom burst into applause. Two disappointed bidders could be seen leaving the room. “I went to $101 million but it hardly mattered,” said Larry Gagosian, the super-dealer who was trying to buy the painting on behalf of a client. Another contender was Hong Gyu Shin, the director of the Shin Gallery on Grand Street in Manhattan, who said he was bidding for himself.

“I was expecting it to go for around $87 million,” Mr. Shin said. Although he explained that he collects mostly Japanese woodblock prints and old master paintings, he found the triptych by the Irish-born painter, who died in 1992, irresistible. “I loved that painting and I couldn’t control myself,” he said. “Maybe someday I’ll have another chance.”

For more than a month now, Christie’s has been billing the sale as a landmark event with a greater number of paintings and sculptures estimated to sell for over $20 million than it has ever had before. The hard sell apparently worked. Nearly 10,000 visitors flocked to its galleries to preview the auction. The sale totaled $691.5 million, far above Christie’s $670.4 million high estimate, becoming the most expensive auction ever. It outstripped the $495 million total set at Christie’s in May.

Of the 69 works on offer, only six failed to sell. All told, 10 world record prices were achieved for artists who, besides Bacon, included Christopher Wool, Ad Reinhardt, Donald Judd and Willem de Kooning.

The sale was also a place to see and be seen. Christie’s Rockefeller Center salesroom was standing room only, with collectors including Michael Ovitz, the Los Angeles talent agent; Aby Rosen, the New York real estate developer; Martin Margulies, from Miami; Donald B. Marron, the New York financier; and Daniel S. Loeb, the activist investor and hedge fund manager.

The Bacon triptych was not the only highflier. A 10-foot-tall mirror-polished stainless steel sculpture that resembled a child’s party favor, Jeff Koons’s Balloon Dog (Orange) sold to another telephone bidder for $58.4 million, above its high $55 million estimate, becoming the most expensive work by a living artist sold at auction. The pooch was being sold by Peter M. Brant, the newsprint magnate who auctioned the canine to raise money to endow his Greenwich, Conn., foundation. In the 1990s, Mr. Koons had created the sculpture in an edition of five, each in a different color. Four celebrated collectors own the others: Steven A. Cohen, the hedge-fund billionaire, has a yellow one; Eli Broad, the Los Angeles financier, owns a blue one; François Pinault, the French luxury goods magnate and owner of Christie’s, has the magenta version; and Dakis Joannou, the Greek industrialist, has his in red. Christie’s had estimated Mr. Brant’s sculpture would fetch $35 million to $55 million.

(Final prices include the buyer’s premium: 25 percent of the first $100,000; 20 percent of the next $100,000 to $2 million; and 12 percent of the rest. Estimates do not reflect commissions.)

After the sale, Jussi Pylkkänen, chairman of Christie’s Europe and the evening’s auctioneer, noted how international the bidding was. Besides a healthy showing of American bidders, there were also a lot of potential buyers from Asia and Europe trying to get into the action. “There were more players from the New World than ever before,” he said, “and more people spending over $20 million.

“But,” he warned, in order to have such a successful sale, “you have to have the material.”




                                             Seven bidders battled for 10 minutes over Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucian Freud.

                                     The 1969 work in three parts, hanging on the wall, was purchased by a dealer’s unidentified client.




Bringing Home the Bacon



Christie's Sets $85 Million Floor, The Highest Asking Price Yet, For Triptych by British Artist



By Kelly Crow The Wall Street Journal Thursday, November 7, 2013


Last year, Sotheby's slapped an $80 million price tag on Edvard Munch's The Scream and wound up selling it for a record $120 million. On Tuesday, in New York, Christie's will try to top that feat with its Francis Bacon triptych, Three Studies of Lucian Freud. How to tell? Christie's wants at least $85 million for the Bacon, the highest asking price in auction history, Bacon painted Freud in a confident, shoulders-back posture he had already used before when painting his lover George Dyer. In essence, the work "is a marriage of the incredibly important people in Bacon's life," Mr. Gorvy added.

In the fuzzy science of auction pricing, an artwork's estimate often amounts to a starting point for public negotiation.

An estimate is intended to hint at a work's aesthetic merits, but it can also reflect a broad array of additional factors—from the seller's expectations to past sales of similar examples to those quirky qualities that don't appear to influence art values until they suddenly do.

Millions can hinge, for example, on a painting's palette: If an artist slathers something in gold or red, auctioneers say they will invariably price it higher than similar paintings covered in gloomier hues. Sex also sells, which is why artworks containing nudity tend to fetch more than versions where people are fully clothed.

The current auction titleholder, Munch's Scream, was already a pop-culture icon, so it didn't need much of a market introduction. But Christie's is under pressure now to prove why it thinks this particular Bacon could outperform all rivals—or at least come close.

Brett Gorvy, chairman of Christie's postwar and contemporary art department, said he took his pricing cue from a sea-green Bacon Triptych from 1976 that Sotheby's sold to Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich for $86.2 million in May 2008, the peak of the last market cycle.

Last year, Sotheby's slapped an $80 million price tag on Edvard Munch's The Scream and wound up selling it for a record $120 million. On Tuesday, in New York, Christie's will try to top that feat with its Francis Bacon triptych, Three Studies of Lucian Freud. How to tell? Christie's wants at least $85 million for the Bacon, the highest asking price in auction history.

In the fuzzy science of auction pricing, an artwork's estimate often amounts to a starting point for public negotiation.

The Bacon triptych coming up next week is more brightly coloured than Mr. Abramovich's version—it depicts three portraits of the artist's friend-turned-artistic-foil Lucian Freud sitting against a taxicab-yellow background. Three Studies was also painted seven years earlier than the one that sold for $86.2 million, a potential price-boosting factor since collectors tend to pay a premium for earlier examples of an artist's creative breakthroughs.

Christie's is also trying to leverage the painting's back story, which contains a soap-opera dose of celebrity and pathos—plus a globe-spanning quest by one former owner to reunite the painting's three far-flung panels.

The Dublin-born Bacon was 60 years old and considered one of London's top figurative painters by the time he began painting Three Studies of Lucian Freud. He was known for grouping his works in series—typically, triptychs—just as he had with his 1944 breakout hit Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, now at Tate Britain, in which he painted three alien-like figures contorted against a blood-orange background.

A charismatic man who battled alcoholism and asthma, he split his time between the bars of London's Soho neighbourhood and the expansive studio he was given at London's Royal College of Art. That studio, for the first time, gave him enough space to work on three canvases at once, set up side by side.

Bacon was the provocative darling of London's art circles, but historians say he was smitten—platonically and possibly more so—with Freud, his younger friend and peer. Freud was wiry and witty, the grandson of Sigmund Freud and a painter known for his psychologically charged portraits of friends and models. Over the years, both men painted portraits of each other, and today curators say the results amount to some of their best work.

"Three Studies" is one of only two existing, full-length triptychs Bacon ever did of Freud; the other, painted in 1966, is missing, Mr. Gorvy said.

The example coming up for sale next week is hard to miss because nearly all of its three 6-foot-tall canvases are smeared in bright yellow. In each one, Freud is shown in a white shirt, his sleeves rolled up, sitting in a cane-bottomed chair, with one leg crossed lankily over the other. From left to right, Freud appears to shift in his seat, giving the triptych a restless quality. In the middle panel, Bacon painted Freud in a confident, shoulders-back posture he had already used before when painting his lover George Dyer. In essence, the work "is a marriage of the incredibly important people in Bacon's life," Mr. Gorvy added.

In 1970, the triptych was first shown at Turin's Galleria Galatea—and promptly separated and sold off panel by panel to collectors from Rome, Paris and Japan, to Bacon's frustration because he had wanted the triptych kept together. For the next decade, one panel would change hands, then another.

But then sometime during the late 1980s, the Roman owner of one of the panels decided to try and reunite the three. That collector was Francesco De Simone Niquesa, a lawyer who advised Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida on their film contracts during the 1960s and later amassed a fortune selling bottled mineral water. Mr. De Simone, who is in his early 90s, maintains a low profile today, but collectors in Rome say he has one of the country's best collections of modern art—and he is particularly known for admiring Bacon.

Christie's said it wouldn't confirm that Mr. De Simone once owned the Bacon triptych. Mr. Gorvy said he could confirm that an Italian collector spent 15 years persuading the owners of the remaining two panels to sell their Bacons so he could bring the triptych back together. He added that the Italian owner then lived with the trio for years before reselling Three Studies to another collector for an undisclosed sum. That collector is based in the U.S., according to people familiar with the matter.

A spokesman for Mr. De Simone confirmed Thursday afternoon that he had reassembled the triptych and had sold it to the current owner, who remains anonymous. Mr. Gorvy said the current owner brought it home last year and "realized it didn't fit into his broader collection," which is why it is being offered for sale now.

It is too soon to tell whether the tale, or the triptych, will suit bidders' tastes during Christie's contemporary sale on Tuesday, especially given its historically high asking price. But it is likely no coincidence that one of the referential artworks included in Christie's 16 catalogue pages devoted to the Bacon is a small image of—what else?— The Scream.







                                               Bacon, left, and Freud in the streets of London, in 1974. 





Bacon estate says lover’s brother sold fakes


New details emerge in British courts about disputed drawings that first emerged in Italy





The Francis Bacon Estate, which was set up with support from the artist’s companion and heir, John Edwards, last month accused John’s brother David of having sold fakes. This follows an appeal application in a bankruptcy case that has revealed new details about the sale of drawings attributed to Francis Bacon. Three courts in England have ruled that a group of drawings originating from Italy and sold by David Edwards are not authentic.


What makes this so important is the sheer number of drawings in existence that may be affected by these rulings. Since Bacon’s death, Bologna-based Cristiano Lovatelli Ravarino has been linked to hundreds of drawings attributed to Bacon. Ravarino, who says he was Bacon’s lover, says that these were given to him by the artist. In the High Court, the judge, Mr Justice Sales, noted that “Ravarino was the person who provided the disputed drawings to the bankrupt [Edwards]”.


The affair of the so-called Bacon drawings came before the courts because of the bankruptcy of David Edwards. Last month, in the Court of Appeal, Lady Justice Arden rejected an application to introduce fresh evidence from Italy. The Francis Bacon Estate summarised the situation on its website: “John Edwards’s brother judged to have sold fake Bacon drawings.” David Edwards has insisted that the drawings are authentic


When Bacon died, in 1992, he left his estate to John Edwards, his close companion. When John died in Thailand in 2003, he in turn left a substantial legacy to the Francis Bacon Estate. This funds its authentication committee and catalogue raisonné. The estate’s blog stated that John’s brother David had sold fake works by Bacon, but following our enquiries, the estate appeared to backtrack just before we went to press, ascribing the claim to media reports.


In June 2007, David Edwards sold six drawings and memorabilia for £1m as works by Bacon. A few months later, he sold a further six drawings for £300,000. Martin Harrison, a Bacon specialist and the editor of the artist’s catalogue raisonné, later told a Cambridge court that they were merely “pastiches, or even parodies, and profoundly disrespectful of Bacon’s authentic body of work”. As such, they were valued at just £480.


The drawings, said to have come from Ravarino, had been sold to a Mr Thompson, a Mr Gowe and a Mr Burr. They sought to recover their payments and seek damages. David Edwards was subsequently declared bankrupt.


It later emerged that Edwards had passed £425,000 to his companion, John Frederick Tanner, during the course of 2007. Edwards and Tanner not only lived together, but also worked together in the antiques business. In the early 1990s, they ran Seabrook Antiques, in Long Melford, Suffolk. Edwards imported antiques and Tanner was involved in interior decoration.


Legal action was brought against Tanner in 2012 by Nigel Millar, an insolvency accountant acting as trustee for the bankrupt Edwards. Cambridge County Court determined in a judgment in May 2012 that Tanner should repay the £425,000.


Since then, Tanner has sought to appeal on several grounds, including a wish to provide further evidence that the drawings are indeed by Bacon. This included evidence from a Bologna case in 2005, in which the Italian judge ruled that there was insufficient evidence that Ravarino had acted fraudulently over other drawings. Tanner also wanted to provide fresh evidence from Ambra Draghetti, an Italian handwriting expert, who believes the drawings to have been signed by Bacon.


Last January, in the High Court, Mr Justice Sales was dismissive of this application in his judgment. “There was expert art advice available to [Cambridge] District Judge Pelly that supported the court judgment against the bankrupt [Edwards] as indicating that the drawings were not authentic Francis Bacon drawings,” he said.


Sales added that he did not consider that the evidence of the Italian handwriting expert would add further important evidence. “Ms Draghetti has not inspected the disputed drawings relevant in this case. It also appears to me that there is not a clear statement of her having relevant expertise in the matter of assessment of authenticity of artworks which would allow the court to conclude that her opinion should be given significant weight,” he said.


Tanner also wanted to provide a witness statement from Ravarino’s side. Sales said that this “refers to an incident in which he gave the bankrupt [Edwards] some of the drawings that Mr Ravarino maintains Francis Bacon had given to him, which he later learned had been sold by the bankrupt”. Sales said that “Mr Ravarino would have been an obvious person to ask for information about the provenance of the disputed drawings”, and that Tanner should have obtained this evidence at an earlier stage, before the Cambridge case.


In conclusion, Sales said: “I consider that Mr Tanner has failed to show that there is any real prospect of success for him on an appeal. There is no other compelling reason why there should be an appeal.”


Tanner later went up to the Court of Appeal, where his application was considered by Lady Justice Arden, who also refused. She concluded: “The fault was on the side of the party seeking to adduce the evidence; in these circumstances, I do not consider that there is any basis [to] grant an appeal.”


But Tanner’s lawyer, Abhijit Pandya, says that “the authenticity of the drawings had not yet been decided”. He says: “Our legal position is that the [Cambridge] county court did not have any experts who gave adequate evidence as to the authenticity of the drawings.” Pandya questions the “so-called expert” Harrison and the independence of the catalogue raisonné committee.


Pandya claims that the drawings were found to be authentic “in a full hearing in Italy on the facts” (although The Art Newspaper interprets the court documents in the 2005 Bologna case as saying that the judge found there was insufficient evidence that they were fakes). Pandya stresses that “there is likely to be an application by us to determine the drawings are authentic in the High Court late this year”.


Umberto Guerini, the Bologna-based lawyer acting for Ravarino, says that his client was not involved in the Cambridge case. Guerini also says that Harrison is “the only ‘expert’ on the work of Francis Bacon who has denied the authenticity of the drawings Bacon gave to Ravarino”.









Francis Bacon painting set to sell for $100 million in New York


Dublin-born painter now one of the most expensive artists in history





A painting by Dublin-born artist Francis Bacon may sell for up to $100 million (€72 million) at auction in New York next month and become one of the most expensive works of art ever sold.

Auctioneers Christie’s expects the price for Three Studies of Lucian Freud “to surpass the current record” for the artist, which is $86.3 million.

Some of the world’s wealthiest people are expected to bid when it goes under the hammer at Christie’s sale of post-war and contemporary art in Manhattan on November 12th.

The buyer will effectively get three pictures for the price of one. Like many of Bacon’s most famous paintings, the work is a triptych – a painting on three separate panels designed to be hung together. Each panel is framed separately

The life-size painting, dating from 1969, depicts Lucian Freud – a friend and fellow-artist of Bacon’s – sitting on a wooden chair in various poses.

Christie’s described it as a “true masterpiece” that marks the friendship between Bacon and Freud, “two masters of 20th-century figurative painting”. The work has never appeared at auction before and is being sold by an unnamed European collector.

Record price

Many of Bacon’s paintings are now in museums but those still in private ownership sell for millions at auction. The record price for a painting by Bacon was $86.3 million (€55.6 million) paid in 2008 at Sotheby’s, New York for Triptych, 1976 which was reputedly bought by Roman Abramovich, the Russian billionaire and owner of Chelsea Football Club.

But Christie’s believes “the market has moved on” since then and that Three Studies of Lucian Freud could “comfortably beat this record and possibly get closer to $100 million”.

Other collectors of Bacon’s paintings, according to The Art Newspaper, include the American hedge-fund billionaire Steve Cohen; Sheikha Al Mayassa, daughter of the Emir of Qatar; and an unnamed “Irish billionaire” believed to have bought one at auction in London in 2008 for £17 million.

Bacon, who was born in Lower Baggot Street in 1909 and grew up in Co Kildare, moved to England as a young man and became one of London’s most famous artists during the 1960s. He died in 1992 and his South Kensington studio was later donated to Dublin’s Hugh Lane Gallery, where it has been reconstructed.

Lucian Freud, who died in 2011, was a German-born British artist and a grandson of the Viennese psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud.

The highest price ever paid at auction for a painting was $119.9 million (€90.6 million) for one of four versions of The Scream by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch at Sotheby’s, New York, in May last year.









    New York, Rockefeller Plaza | 12 November 2013 | SALE 2791| Lot 32









Estimate on request


Price realised 

USD 142,405,000



Galleria Galatea, Turin

Private collection, Paris

Private collection, Japan



J. Russell Francis Bacon, London, 1971, pp. 144-145 and 201, no. 72 (illustrated).

L. Trucchi, Francis Bacon, London, 1976, n.p., no. 129 (illustrated in color).

M. Leiris, Francis Bacon: Full Face and in Profile, New York, 1983, n.p., no. 62 (illustrated in color).

H. Davies and S. Yard, Francis Bacon, New York, 1986, p. 49, no. 54 (illustrated).

E. van Alphen, Francis Bacon and the Loss of Self, London, 1992, pp. 36-38 and 44, no. 8-10, 16-18 (illustrated in color).

J. Farena, Great Modern Masters: Bacon, New York, 1995, pp. 22-23 and 62, no. 17 (illustrated in color).

W. Schmied, Francis Bacon. Commitment and Conflict, Munich, 1996, p. 90, fig. 98 (central panel illustrated in color and on the cover).

M. Cappock, Francis Bacon's Studio, London, 2005, p. 43, no. 48 (central panel illustrated in color).

Francis Bacon, exh. cat., London, Tate Britain, 2008, p. 183, fig. 107 (illustrated in color).



Turin, Galleria Galatea, Francis Bacon, March-April 1970, p. 11 (illustrated in color)

Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais and Düsseldorf, Kunsthalle, Francis Bacon, October 1971-May 1972, pp. 42-44 and 53, no. 83 (illustrated in color)

London, Tate Gallery; Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie and Berlin, Nationalgalerie, Francis Bacon, May 1985-March 1986, n.p., no. 59 (right panel exhibited; illustrated in color)

New Haven, Yale Center for British Art; Minneapolis Institute of Arts; The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Francis Bacon. A Retrospective, January-October 1999, pp. 143, 154-156, no. 46 (illustrated in color).

Rome, Galleria Borghese, Caravaggio Bacon, October 2009-January 2010, pp. 198-199 (illustrated in color)


Lot Essay

Please note that this work has been requested for the exhibition The Artist's Eye. London Artists Working from Life, 1950-1980, at the LWL-Museum für Kunst und Kultur, Westflisches Landesmuseumin Münster, November 2014-February 2015.



An undeniable icon of twentieth century art, the masterpiece triptych Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969) marks the epic culmination of Francis Bacon's relationship with fellow painter and chronicler of the human condition, Lucian Freud. Glowing in a palette of sunshine yellow and carried out in Bacon's celebrated triptych format, the towering, life-size painting pulses with vitality. With each masterful sweep of the brush, Bacon has animated his friend, Freud being seen to restlessly reposition himself, pivot his raised foot, kneed his hands in his lap and rotate his head from canvas to canvas. Reincarnated in paint, we are invited to get up close and personal with Freud.

In Three Studies of Lucian Freud, Bacon has combined with characteristic alacrity, a vital human form with a precise description of the architecture of space, and explosive, stochastic outbursts of thick texture. One of the greatest artistic friendships and rivalries of the twentieth century, the trajectory of their relationship over nearly half a century, from the moment of their introduction through Graham Sutherland in early 1945, goaded each man to greater levels of excellence in the field of figurative painting. Painter to painter, their practices impacted one another, as did their characters: Bacon finding a compliment to his own charismatic but capricious nature in Freud's confident and considered manner. Just as Freud's intimate portrait of Bacon painted in 1952, tragically stolen from the Tate collection while on display in Berlin in 1988, stands as one of the artist's greatest achievements, so Three Studies of Lucian Freud an be understood to be one of Bacon's greatest masterpieces.

Rarely matched in history, the powerful dialogue between Bacon and Freud recalls the energetic sparring between Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, Titian and Tintoretto, each great painter forever shaping the artistic canon. By the time Three Studies of Lucian Freud was made in 1969, the relationship between Freud and Bacon was at its apex, only to grow more distant throughout the 1970s.

A golden masterpiece, the three paintings of Three Studies of Lucian Freud form a near-devotional trinity to Freud: friend and foil, confidant and rival. Each exceptional in their own right, the paintings are spectacularly resolved and harmonious in unity, from left to right teaming with life in every brushstroke. Bacon has animated every one of his figures: the lean, sculpted limbs and lithe figure of Freud flowing with smooth gestures of the brush, while each face courses with energy and attitude lent by impulsive, staccato dashes of colour. The scene for each painting is set up with precision, Bacon carefully establishing the radiant coloured ground and building clean, crystalline prisms, to then rapidly establish the figure, using his free but controlled hand with extraordinary facility. It is along this fine knife's edge of calculated contingency that Bacon operates, balancing his fury and his flair with the paintbrush to 'clinch the image'. In each image, Freud is wearing a white shirt rolled up to its sleeves. His hands disappear into his lap as Bacon's attention turns to the flowing contours of the forearm and smooth curve of the thighs and calf. In every painting, the soles of Freud's leather-clad brogues turn up to confront the viewer, while in two paintings, left and center we catch a glimpse of bare skin, as the artist's trouser leg rises above the tidal mark of his navy blue sock. The cane-bottomed chair belongs to Bacon's studio, but he has also incorporated the headboard from the bed in John Deakin's photo shoot, to create a clean, linear backdrop to the drama of the figure.

Remarkably, the three panels of the work were separated for around fifteen years of their history. The complete work was exhibited first in 1970 at Galleria Galatea, Turin and later in the now renowned retrospective at the Grand Palais, Paris and Kunsthalle Dsseldorf in 1971-1972. Somehow divided in the mid-1970s, the three works were later reunited in all their splendour. Exhibited side by side at The Yale Center for British Art, New Haven retrospective in 1999, the painting has stood as a gilded triptych, just as Bacon intended, ever since. Three Studies of Lucian Freud stands as one of only two existing, full-length triptychs of Lucian Freud; the other titled Three Studies for Portrait of Lucian Freud, painted in 1966. A third triptych of Freud painted in 1964 was permanently dismantled; its right canvas, Study for the Portrait of Lucian Freud 1964) now belongs to the Israel Museum, Jerusalem and the central panel to Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art.

Arguably two of the greatest figurative painters of the twentieth century, Bacon and Freud greatly impacted one another. Meeting in 1945, they imbibed the spirit of post-war London, sharing a fondness for Soho and its newfound freedoms after the privations of wartime. In the 1950s, the two were inseparable; the young Freud finding great inspiration in Bacon's spontaneity and impulsive painterly skill. Later, in the 1960s, Freud painted Bacon's lover George Dyer twice, while Bacon painted Freud a number of times.

Bacon and Freud became close friends towards the end of the Second World War, introduced by painter Graham Sutherland. As Freud later recounted, "I said rather tactlessly to Graham 'who do you think is the best painter in England?' he said 'Oh, someone you've never heard of; he's like a cross between Vuillard and Picasso; he's never shown and he has the most extraordinary life; we sometimes go to dinner parties there" (L. Freud, quoted in W. Feaver, Lucian Freudexh. cat., Tate Britain, London, 2002, p. 26). Sutherland made arrangements for the painters to visit him and his wife in the countryside in early 1945, the two traveling together from Victoria Station. "Once I met him, I saw him a lot" Freud remembered - Bacon being both "really admirable" and audacious, vacillating on impulse (L. Freud, interview with S. Smee and D. Dawson, 'Lucian Freud on Francis Bacon: In conversation with Sebastian Smee', in B. Bernard and D. Dawson (eds.), Freud at Work: Lucian Freud in Conversation with Sebastian Smee, London 2006, p. 26).

The pair became firm friends and regular companions. Bacon particularly appreciated Freud's quick wit, vitality and his consummate risk taking. Together they shared a fascination for the "human comedy", and were capable of a perceptive reading of people - both men enjoying a garrulous exchange of gossip between games of roulette and poker. Soho at the time provided a fertile ground for them both, able to enjoy their vices at leisure, passing between the comfortable settings of Wheeler's, the Gargoyle and the Colony Room. The Colony Room owned by Muriel Belcher was the stage upon which many of Bacon and Freud's personal stories were played out. Meeting almost daily, the two painters were in and out of each other's emotional trials and tribulations: Freud's faltering marriage with Lady Caroline Blackwood and Bacon's own tumultuous affair with Peter Lacy. As Caroline Blackwood recalled, "I had dinner with [Francis Bacon] nearly every night for more or less the whole of my marriage to Lucian We also had lunch" (C. Blackwood, quoted in M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London 1996, p. 192-193).

During this period, Bacon began to paint the cast of characters that surrounded him. As he explained, "when I was "younger, I needed extreme subject matter for my paintings. Then as I got older, I realized I had all the subjects I needed in my own life." (F. Bacon, quoted in M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon in the 1950s, exh. cat., Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts at University of East Anglia, Norwich, 2006, p.62). For the painter who avidly read the Greek tragedies, the poetry of W.B. Yeats, the philosophy of Paul Valéry and Jean-Paul Sartre, he found that his friends were as "vivid and transmutable" into art as any great literary hero or heroine. As Michael Peppiatt suggests, "the Orestes and Othellos, the Clytemnestras and Lady Macbeths, were all around him in the bars and clubs of Soho. If you had the power and conviction to raise them into myth, then Lucian Freud and George Dyer, Isabel Rawsthorne, Murie Belcher and Henrietta Moraes, with their striking looks and strange trajectoiries through life, were very literally the stuff of which legends are made" (M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon in the 1950s, exh. cat., Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts at the University of East Anglia, 2006, p. 62).

Throughout the 1970s, the friendship between Bacon and Freud cooled, affected by the two men's differing fortunes. Well-known for his mercurial character and often prone to changes in loyalty, Bacon once mused: "I'm not really fond of Lucian, you know, the way I am of Rodrigo (Moynihan) and Bobby (Buhler). It's just that he rings me up all the time," but as David Sylvester recounted, "Francis always said that Lucian was the most entertaining and stimulating person he knew. And whatever ambivalence, he made no pretense that he very much minded the gap in his life when in later years Lucian stopped ringing up" (D. Sylvester, 'All the Pulsations of a Person', The Independent, October 24 1993).



Friends and in later years, artistic rivals, Freud and Bacon developed a similar talent for depicting the human subject. While Freud's relentless accumulation of information and feeling through close focus painting differed to Bacon's highly contingent, ejaculatory and violent mark making, "[both] images were on the edge, born of tension, frenetic in Bacon's case, drawn out in Freud's. Bacon's chance effects betoken exhilarated despair, whereas Freud's hard-won image is patinated with angst" (D. Cohen, in S. Wilcox and D. Cohen, Lucian Freud: Etchings from the PaineWebber Art Collection, exh. cat., Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1999, p. 15).

Freud was deeply impressed by his older friend's skill and approach to painting and looked to him as a mentor, as the photo of the two men taken in Bacon's studio at the Royal College of Art in 1952 suggests. Thinking back on that period of his life, Freud said: "I realized immediately that [Bacon's] work related immediately to how he felt about life. Mine on the other hand seemed very laboured. That was because it was a terrific amount of labor for me to do anything - and still is. Francis on the other hand, would have ideas, which he put down and then destroyed and then quickly put down again. It was his attitude that I admired. The way he was completely ruthless about his own work I think that Francis's way of painting freely helped me feel more daring" (L. Freud, quoted in R. Calvocoressi, Lucian Freud on Paper, New York, 2009, p. 11).

From as early as 1951, Freud and Bacon began to capture their friendship in portraits - one undertaking a painting or a drawing of the other. Bacon's first Portrait of Lucian Freud (1951) (Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester) was his first portrait, which acknowledged the name of its sitter. It shows a young Freud in a navy suit lent up against a street lamp, undertaken by the artist from memory and recalling a photo of Franz Kafka. As David Sylvester recounted, "the manner of the Freud portrait's realisation was odd but typical. Bacon had asked Freud to come and pose. When the model arrived at the studio he found an almost finished painting of himself which had been based on memory and on a snapshot of Franz Kafka reproduced in a book" (D. Sylvester, Looking back at Francis Bacon, London, 2000, p. 66). Freud's first drawings of Bacon date from the same year, in which Bacon is seen bare-chested, trousers un-zipped and standing in his shirttails. As William Feaver recounted "Francis Bacon, one evening in 1951, undid his shirt buttons and flies, stuck his stomach out, flexed his hips and said 'I think you ought to do this because I think it's rather important here.' Freud drew him three times in that catwalk pose: three sketches latching on to the quips of body language that Bacon was so brilliant at swiping from newspaper photos and the like. Bared hips, the deferential nape of a neck, flinching eye contact, the inertia of despair or deep sleep were Bacon's forte; for Freud such inroads of vision and expression were enticing potential" (W. Feaver, Lucian Freud: Drawings, exh. cat., Blain Southern, London, 2012, p. 14-15).

The following year Freud carried out an intense portrait of Bacon in oil on a small copper plate. Executed on a miniature scale, the work exuded intensity and closeness and is now considered to be one of his greatest works. Originally intended for the wall of Wheeler's restaurant, the work was later destined for the Tate. Freud and Bacon sat knee to knee for two or three months until the painting was finished.

The painting proved to be a great success, even to Bacon, the toughest of critics. Enthralled, Lawrence Gowing described it as "quite unobtrusive, yet biting like a serpent when it caught you, exerting the transfixing spell of an image that is tantamount to the thing itself" (L. Gowing, Lucian Freud, London 1984, pp. 67-68). In 1988 the painting was stolen during Freud's major retrospective in Berlin. Telephoning Robert Hughes, Freud expressed how shocked he was: "Well," Hughes said to Freud, "'at least there's someone out there who's really fanatical about your work.' 'Oh, d'you think so?' he replied. 'You know, I'm not sure I agree. I don't think whoever it was, took it because he liked me. Not a bit of it. He must have been crazy about Francis. That would justify the risk'" (R. Hughes, 'Francis Bacon's fame is best assessed retrospectively,' The Guardian, [24 July 2013]).

For Freud, the decade, which elapsed after his joint exhibition at the 1954 Venice Biennale with Bacon and Ben Nicholson, saw him rapidly transform his technique. Evolving from a smooth, Ingriste appreciation of contour and line, Freud developed the rich, impasto modulation of paint that has since become his hallmark. This transformation was greatly influenced by his interaction with Bacon, who was devoted to the process of transmitting the raw, visceral reality of the figure to canvas, what he called "the pulsations of a person" (F. Bacon, quoted in D. Sylvester (ed.), The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, London 1987, p. 174).

Following the first fertile years of paintings and drawings in 1951 and 1952, Bacon and Freud did not paint each other again for another 12 years. Initially Bacon painted Double Portrait of Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach (1964), the only existing work of the two contemporaries, which now hangs in the Moderna Museet, Stockholm. Bacon would next embark on only his second large-scale triptych using Freud as his exclusive subject. This triptych now forever disassembled exists between the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art and a private collection. In comparison to the artist's earlier work, these paintings were marked by an increased confidence and strength of colour and line, becoming the hallmark for Bacon's most accomplished and important period.

Freud's portraits of 1964 and 1965-66 are equally marked out by their looser and impasto applications of paint. The exactness of the early years is replaced by an intense, physical use of medium for which he acknowledged the influence of Bacon.

At this point the two were seemingly intertwined, with Freud painting Bacon's beloved George Dyer on a couple of occasions and Bacon painting Freud fourteen times between 1964 and 1971 in a mixture of two small panels, four large panels (one destroyed), two small triptychs, three large triptychs (one separated) and the rest as part of larger compositions. It was a time of great satisfaction and comfort in Bacon's life, his relationship with Dyer was at its peak, his paintings were gaining international recognition, he was being offered exhibitions at major museums around the world. This was reflected in the fact that in 1969, the same year of the present work, Bacon made arguably his two greatest small self-portraits. Huddled in his trademark trench coat against a luxurious aquamarine blue background, his face seems calm and at ease. These works are intense with scrutiny and intricacy but relaxed in manner, allowing Bacon to expose his most direct expression.



Although Bacon boldly marked his arrival on the world stage with the haunting triptych, Three Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion in 1944 (Tate Collection), he did not paint another large-scale triptych until 1962 with Three Studies for a Crucifixion (Solomon R. Guggenheim Collection, New York). This work marked the onset of arguably his greatest and most ambitious period, in which Bacon undertook his largest scale works, finding new boldness and confidence with color, and perfectly calculated use of thick paint. His major retrospective at the Tate Gallery in 1962 and subsequent exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim, New York in 1963 were great triumphs, Bacon gaining sudden traction and celebrity within the contemporary art world. In an anonymous review of the Tate Gallery exhibition, Bacon's work was described as the shock of seeing Francisco de Goya's works: "This is the black night of the twentieth-century soul, images of man which are terrifying, violent and at times bestial. It was the most stunning exhibition by a living British painter since the War" (M. Gale and C. Stephens, Francis Bacon, exh. cat., Tate Britain, London, 2008, p. 34).

A sense of Bacon's confidence during this period, of the artist at the apex of his powers, is evident in Three Studies of Lucian Freud. Eschewing all religiosity, Bacon fervently denied any association with the holy trinity in his triptychs, despite the titles of his Crucifixion scenes. As he quite simply explained to David Sylvester, "I see images in series. And I suppose I could go on long beyond the triptych and do five or six together, but I find the triptych is a more balanced unit" (F. Bacon, interview with D. Sylvester, in D. Farr, Francis Bacon: A Retrospective exh. cat., Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1999, p. 143). Never-the-less, the traditional "hallowed" format of the triptych and the strength of each successive canvas united in Three Studies of Lucian Freud, undoubtedly does take on an epic and near-devotional quality.

Bacon would go on to paint an unrivalled sequence of triptychs, one a year from 1964-1969, most of which are now in museums and subsequently the infamous and seminal black triptychs: Triptych  In Memory of George Dyer (1971) (Fondation Beyeler, Basel), Triptych. August (1972) (Tate Gallery, London) and Triptych. May-June (1973), which Bacon undertook in posthumous tribute to his lover George Dyer, the ill-fated yet remarkably charismatic Eastender who inspired much of the artist's greatest work. It is perhaps striking and significant then that Bacon was to conclude his suite of paintings of Dyer, and indeed Freud, with his bittersweet Three Portraits: Posthumous Portrait of George Dyer.



Bacon unlike Freud was always reluctant to paint his subjects from life, preferring instead to use photographs as visual triggers, as ways to unfurl personal and poignant recollections. From 1964-1973 he carried out portraits of Freud rendered from fellow Soho denizen John Deakin's commissioned photographs. Deakin's black and white images became the basis for the majority of Bacon's portraits throughout the sixties capturing, not only Lucian Freud, but George Dyer, Isabel Rawsthorne, Peter Lacy, Muriel Belcher and Henrietta Moraes. In Deakin's shots of Bacon, as the artist himself acknowledged, the posture of his head is inspired by Freud's 1952 portrait, Francis Bacon.

In Three Studies of Lucian Freud, the assembly of the figure and room is clearly derived from Deakin's photo shoot of Freud. From the numerous shots taken in the 1960s, Bacon has interpolated the figure of Freud from one familiar suite of photographs showing the artist sitting in a studio, and another group of images taken in 1964 reclining on a bed covered in a geometric patterned quilt. From left to right across each of the three canvases, Freud appears first with his shoulders turned gently towards us, then square on to centre and finally, gently hunched as if the shoulder blades were being pinched together.

For Bacon, as he explained to David Sylvester, his preference for the for the photograph or reproduced image was because a friend before him in the studio inhibited his practice: "they inhibit me because if I like them, I don't want to practice before them the injury that I do to them in my work. I would rather practice the injury in private by which I can think I can record the fact of them more clearly" (F. Bacon, quoted in D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, London, 1987, p. 41)

Subjected to the vertiginous extremes of emotion that Bacon measured out, many of Bacon's models, George Dyer in particular, appear on the verge of succumbing to the furious "assault" of brushstrokes cast onto the canvas by the artist. In Three Studies of Lucian Freud however, we are met by a Lucian Freud, contorted yet confident, rising through the painterly onslaught. As Peppiatt has described, "trapped here in a series of Baconian cages, a contorted Freud hovers from panel to panel like a coiled spring about to shoot out of the flat, airless picture plane" (M. Peppiatt, quoted in Caravaggio-Bacon, exh. cat., Galleria Borghese, Rome 2009-2010, p. 198).



In Three Studies of Lucian Freud Bacon has rendered each successive canvas in a palette of brilliant yellow, over a curved ground of golden ochre echoing the tall curved bow windows of his childhood home in Ireland. The golden ochre itself is carefully stippled by animations of thick paint revealing a series of under-layers. Forming a glowing carpet that is almost sculptural, the brushstrokes protrude like tiny barbs, forming a counterpoint to the smooth resolution of the remaining canvas. This compositional design and treatment of the ground very much reflects the devices used in Bacon's bullfight paintings made in the same year. Together these strong, resonant colours recall the bold and emotive chromatic fields created by contemporary artists such as Mark Rothko. The 1960s marked a major turn in Bacon's oeuvre towards colour: lilac, cyan, kingfisher blue, orange vermillion and scarlet red all becoming dominant grounds in his major paintings. Yet Bacon was consistently scathing about Abstract Expressionism. For him, abstraction was to be restricted to the backgrounds of paintings, as complements to his figurative images. Notwithstanding, the Tate Gallery's 1959 exhibition, The New American Painting did leave a profound impression on the artist and it was in 1968, shortly before Three Studies of Lucian Freud was to be painted, that Bacon made his first visit to the United States for his exhibition at Marlborough-Gerson Gallery in New York.

It was during this time that Bacon encountered Jackson Pollock's work at the Museum of Modern Art, and was characteristically scathing: "I'd heard so much about Jackson Pollock – and found that dribbling of paint all over the canvas just looked like old lace. (F. Bacon, quoted in M. Gale and C. Stephens, Francis Bacon,, Tate Britain, London, 2008, p. 263).

This does not however belie the significance of these artists' practices to Bacon whose work began to bare certain similarities. Indeed in Three Studies of Lucian Freud we find Bacon applying thick, button-like blobs of paint to the canvas as if at random, by chance, but with the utmost control of his hand.



Bacon's use of the space frame with its clean internal architecture in Three Studies of Lucian Freud acts to lock the figure of Freud to a certain time and space  the crystalline structure drawing the man into our immediate focus. As Wieland Schmied has described, "Bacon's space subverts our habit of seeing, abandoning perspective and breaking up the familiar appearance of our everyday surroundings All Bacon's spaces are conceived with human life in mind. Every corner of the space is related to a person, whose presence charges it with extreme tension. It is only through the figure that we really see the space and, in turn, it is only through the space that we learn to see the individual human being. That is its function. The purpose of space is the revelation of the human" (W. Schmied, Francis Bacon: Commitment and Conflict, Munich 2006, p. 31). Employed in many of the artist's greatest works including Bacon's 1953 suite of Popes the geometric prism surrounded by two clearly delineated fields of sunshine yellow over golden ochre in Three Studies of Lucian Freud, gives Freud a gilded, exalted and powerful appearance. Indeed a sense of Freud's character, his inner resolve, pride and vitality is communicated in paint, as his feet boldly breach the confines of each successive space frame.




Total exposure




The fantasy ‘buddy movie’ involving dead visual artists with little in common was pioneered by the short-lived Prussian lawyer and aesthete, Wilhelm Wackenroder (1773-98). In a rhapsodic essay, Confessions from the Heart of an Art-Loving Friar, published anonymously in 1796, the 23 year old Wackenroder imagined a love-in between Raphael and Dürer, who had never met. Wackenroder wanted to discredit rationalist critics who purport to “separate the Good from the so-called Bad...with a cold, criticizing eye”, and who rank artists in order (Roger de Piles, in his ‘Balance of Painters’ (1708), was the first to give artists scores out of 20 for composition, colour, drawing and expression).

Wackenroder instead hoped to foster a pluralistic criticism that — as we noughties might say — respects difference. He insisted that while individual artists and artworks may argue with each other, these disputes ultimately “dissolve into harmony” when surveyed, as it were, from the peak of a high mountain. The Eternal Spirit “looks with pleasure upon each and all and delights in the variegated mixture...Stupid people cannot comprehend that there are antipodes on our globe and that they are themselves antipodes”. The ‘friar’ seems to have wanted to return art to something akin to an idealised version of the pre-reformation church, with spats and turf wars but no heresy or apostasy.

The culmination of this wistful reverie is a dream during which two great Renaissance “antipodes” — Dürer and Raphael — are brought together. The friar dreams he visits a great gallery of Old Masters after midnight. He finds it “illuminated by a strange light” and all the artists standing in front of their own pictures. They descend from heaven every night to look at “the still beloved pictures [painted] by their own hands”. Set apart from the throng, Dürer and Raphael are standing hand in hand “silently gazing in friendly tranquillity at their paintings, hanging side by side”. The friar was just about to greet “my Albrecht and pour out my love”, when he awoke. Only after the dream did he read in Vasari that the artists had been friends “through their works” — a reference to a postal exchange of drawings. Despite this fictional love-in, no-one before Wackenroder had seen much affinity — Roger de Piles had awarded Raphael top marks, 65/80; Dürer a dunce’s 36/80

Wackenroder’s essay was hugely influential in the first half of the nineteenth century and should now be a foundational text for the legions of curators who have recently been orchestrating blind or nearly blind dates between old and modern masters, and between  contemporaries. Among others, we’ve had big blockbusters devoted to Matisse / Picasso, Rembrandt / Caravaggio, Manet / Velázquez, and almost everyone with Rodin. Where modern art is concerned, these somewhat cacophonous duets have to an extent supplanted the traditional modernist emphasis on movements, epitomised by Alfred Barr’s MOMA flow charts.

The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford became a serious art institution with the acquisition at auction in 1846 of two great groups of drawings by the Renaissance antipodeans Michelangelo and Raphael. That antipodean tradition continues with the exhibition Bacon / Moore: Flesh and Bone. The show has its very own Wackenroder in the form of Francis Warner, the Oxford literature academic, poet, playwright and theatrical impressario who knew both artists well. One of the show’s curators, Richard Calvocoressi, Director of the Henry Foundation, attended Warner’s 1970 lecture on Bacon and Moore, and credits it as the inspiration for this project. Warner’s contention was that despite their personal and artistic differences both artists, having lived through two World Wars, were engaged in a similar enterprise. Calvocoressi summarises as follows: they were “restoring the human body, not to a state of perfection or even wholeness, but to a kind of dignified, animal resignation in the face of isolation and suffering. Conscious of mortality, each manages to convey an irrepressible sense of life”. Warner has contributed a new essay as a postscript for the Ashmolean catalogue in which he claims the artists to be “the last proponents of the Renaissance tradition”.

If we survey the work of Bacon and Moore from the peak of a high mountain — or better still, using Google earth — we can see some similarities. Both were hugely influenced at the outset of their careers by surrealist biomorphism, and especially by Picasso’s Bathers and his other surrealist-style works of the 1930s. More generally, both tend to emphasise bodies at the expense of heads, which are mutilated or dissolved vestiges. Gaping mouths and voids are more likely to be ‘windows of the soul’ than eyes, which are minimised and marginalised. In a 1937 statement, Moore celebrated the “mystery of the hole — the mysterious fascination of caves in hillsides and cliffs”. He didn’t mean eye-holes.

These similarities are still mostly broad brush ‘zeitgeist’, or ‘period style’ stuff. Renaissance expert Edgar Wind, in his 1960 Reith Lectures a brilliant anti-modern rant entitled  Art and Anarchy saw the “devaluation of the human face” as the nadir of the romantic cult of the fragment. Moore was a leading contemporary exponent of “acephalous art”, the “logical consequence of the mind’s absorption in the sub-rational”. These are the iconoclastic-nihilistic terms that are now usually reserved for Bacon, though there have been recent attempts to rid Moore of Warner’s ‘dignified’ label. Bacon, in an endnote to Wind’s 1963 book of the lectures, was merely a purveyor of the “over-sized expressionist cartoon”.

Now moving down from the high mountain into the studio, we can see that any influence is all one way, from Moore to Bacon. Moore never had any truck with Bacon’s jitter-buggering viciousness. Slowish, slightly passive aggressive sermons in stone and bone were his thing. But Bacon, like so many modern painters, was haunted by the facticity and palpability of sculpture and the sculptural. Michelangelo, Rodin and Brancusi were his sculptor heroes (the first two were also venerated by Moore: some marvellous Michelangelo drawings and Rodin sculptures are included in the show). Bacon usually made contemptuous remarks about Moore to third parties (strangely not quoted or itemized in the catalogue) but in the 1970s, as we learn from Martin Harrison’s useful essay, he talked about making sculpture, and even once asked if he could take lessons from Moore.

Bacon seems to have envied sculptors their ability to isolate, expose and touch, and to get a fix on flux. During his formative inter-war years the Holy Grail in the London artworld had been ‘sculpture in the round’, with African tribal sculpture the ideal, the only artefacts that had been — according to Roger Fry and others — fully conceived in three dimensions. In the 1930s, R H Wilenski also proposed wheel thrown pottery as another model for ‘in the round’ art, and many of Bacon’s later figures and especially heads could be construed as the aborted products of a novice wheel potter. In Bacon’s interiors, fragments of furniture become precarious freestanding pedestals, perches and naughty steps for lurching homunculi and pet dinosaurs. His vitrine-like ‘space frames’ are borrowed from surrealist-era Giacometti.

Bacon seems to have aspired to the notional total exposure that sculpture ‘in the round’ could achieve: hence his liking for the triptych format which could offer multiple views of similar entities. Moore, as the great postwar torchbearer for sculpture in the round must have kept this modern ideal at the forefront of Bacon’s mind, even if Bacon was not that convinced by his actual works. The most striking juxtapositions here are between isolated bodies rather than heads: Moore’s Reclining Figure: Festival (1951) with Bacon’s Lying Figure in a Mirror (1971); and Moore’s seated Woman (1957-8) with Bacon’s Untitled (Kneeling Figure) (c1982). While there are clear formal similarities, Moore’s loungers always have a structural integrity and poise that Bacon’s lack. You could climb or sit on them, or use them as architectural components. But in neo-Wackenrodian mode, let’s call Bacon / Moore a high-scoring draw.

Hugs, hand-shakes and high fives, please.



Bacon painting of Freud expected to fetch $85m (£53m)


B.B.C. News, Thursday, 10 October, 2013


A painting by Francis Bacon of his friend and fellow artist Lucian Freud is expected to sell for at least $85m (£53m) when it is auctioned for the first time in New York next month.

The triptych, Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969), is considered to be one of Bacon's greatest masterpieces.

It will have its first ever UK public viewing at Christie's from 13 to 18 October during Frieze Art week.

A smaller, preparatory triptych of Freud sold at auction for £23m in 2011.

Three Studies for a Portrait of Lucian Freud, painted in 1965, had been expected to sell for between £7m and £9m.

Francis Outred, head of Post-War and Contemporary Art at Christie's, Europe said the Three Studies of Lucian Freud, completed four years later, was "a true masterpiece and one of the greatest paintings to come up for auction in a current generation".

"It is an undeniable icon of 20th Century art and a painting that Bacon preserved as one of his favourites."

Outred said the first public unveiling of the complete painting in London was "quite a moment".

"The work is a very important international painting but it's also a conversation between two masters who happen to be British.

"It marks Bacon and Freud's relationship, paying tribute to the creative and emotional kinship between the two artists," he added.

Bacon and Freud met in 1945 and became close companions, painting each other on a number of occasions, before their relationship cooled during the 1970s.

Bacon, known for his triptychs, painted Three Studies of Lucian Freud in 1969 at London's Royal College of Art, after his studio was destroyed in a fire.

With its sunshine yellow background, it is an "extraordinary piece of paintwork" and one of only two existing, full length triptychs of Freud.

The other, painted in 1966, was last seen in 1992, according to Outred, "but no one knows where it is".

Exhibited in Bacon's renowned retrospective at the Grand Palais, Paris in 1971-1972, the three panels that form the painting were separated for almost fifteen years in the mid-1970s.

One panel was shown at the Tate in 1985 before the three sections were reassembled in their original splendour.

The complete work was displayed in New Haven, Connecticut in 1999.

According to the curator Martin Harrison: "Bacon was deeply distressed when the triptych was dismantled, noting on a photograph of the left panel that it was only 'a fragment of a triptych… and I think it is meaningless unless it is united with the other two panels.'

"Its reassembly into the form he intended would, if he lived to see it, have caused him profound satisfaction, given that this was among the surprisingly small number of his paintings he held in high regard."




                     Bacon painted the triptych, Three Studies of Lucian Freud at London's Royal College of Art in 1969



The Brutality of Fact



Ashmolean Museum

Francis Bacon Henry Moore: Flesh and Bone

12 September 2013 to 19th January 2014




Henry Moore’s Reclining Figure (1951) next to Francis Bacon’s Lying Figure (1971): in short, this works. If anything, the comparison is too convincing. The mirror around the figure in Bacon’s painting seeks to replicate the three-dimensional spaces in Moore’s sculpture. His painting longs to become sculpture, except, of course, in Bacon’s version the figure seems to have melted. Pleasingly, the curators of this exhibition have not opted for the most tempting comparisons, like the one made on its website.  Instead, Moore’s figure reclines in the main, high-ceilinged room under Bacon’s paintings of the Furies (Second Version of Triptych, 1988). Bacon’s Lying Figure is present, but it hangs on the wall to the right, making a triangle of mirrors. The effect is profound: it feels like looking up at an actual crucifixion, with an odd sense that Moore’s bronze-work has been deposed from one of the crosses.

This exhibition cleverly avoids portraying Bacon as a two-dimensional disciple of the sculptor whom he famously approached for lessons. His presence in the first room feels a little tentative, though the juxtaposition of Portrait of Henrietta Moraes (1963) with Moore’s Falling Warrior (1956-7) hints at what is to come. The second room is unanswerably powerful. In her Annual Lecture for the Poetry Society (to be published in the next edition of Poetry Review), Anne Carson claimed of Francis Bacon that ‘the genius answer to cliché is catastrophe’. The catastrophic figures in this room—both Bacon’s and Moore’s—feel like unflinching attempts to banish every cliché from depictions of the human form. The tension between them is hugely productive. In his famous interviews with David Sylvester, Bacon claimed that he wanted to ‘make us see something we don’t yet have eyes for’. Standing between Moore’s Three Upright Motives (1955-6) and Bacon’s Two Figures in a Room (1959), you can appreciate this. It feels like looking into the future: Moore’s sculptures exude an almost transhumanist confidence, while Bacon’s paintings provide the humanist critique—the flesh to Moore’s stone. How much suffering, they seem to ask between them, should we tolerate in the name of progress?

However you read them, there is no doubt that the pieces in this exhibition speak to each other. Bacon’s fondness for putting his paintings behind glass has been put to great effect throughout. In the third room, you stand looking at Man Kneeling in Grass (1952) and see not only your own face reflected in his fragility, but the glass cases around Moore’s smaller works looming behind you. The curators have an uncanny habit of placing the viewer in the same multiple frames that Bacon sketched around his Popes. The viewer has the constant sense of wanting to burst out of some kind of restraint. Perhaps the only works that feel a little out of place are Moore’s wartime drawings in the first room. Four Studies of Miners at the Coalface (1942) pulls more strongly towards Graham Sutherland than Francis Bacon. The crucifixion drawings, however, make perfect sense, and echo one of the strongest motifs in the exhibition. Its cumulative effect is to give us eyes for these beautiful but sometimes brutal works, to break down our resistance to what Bacon called ‘the brutality of fact’. The curators should be congratulated on offering a good level of exposition and an experience which is pretty close to being perfect.

Tom Clucas is reading for a DPhil in English at Christ Church, Oxford.






Brother of Francis Bacon's closest friend sold fake drawings


A brother of the man who inherited Francis Bacon’s estate sold £1m of fake drawings purportedly by the artist, a judge has ruled.



A judge at London's Appeal Court has rejected a bid to bring forward fresh evidence that the sketches are “authentic”.

John Edwards, who was Bacon’s close friend and inherited his entire estate, died in 2003.

Four years later, his brother, David Edwards, sold a collection of six drawings he claimed to be by Bacon for £1m, and several months later sold a further six for £300,000.

But when the buyers then showed the drawings to the Francis Bacon Authentication Committee in October 2007, they were told the style was “inconsistent with all the sketches and paintings currently attributed to Bacon".

Martin Harrison, chair of the committee and eminent Bacon scholar, said the drawings were "fakes", consistent "in every way" with the style of other copies. The value of the drawings was put at just over £480.

David Edwards, who was friends with Bacon when the artist was alive, was left bankrupt in 2009 from legal action brought by buyers. 

After it emerged that Mr Edwards had passed £425,000 to his boyfriend John Frederick Tanner before he was made bankrupt, Mr Tanner was ordered to pay the sum to the buyers as reimbursement in May last year.

In January, High Court judge, Mr Justice Sales, rejected a bid by Mr Tanner to introduce fresh evidence that purportedly showed the sketches were genuine.

And although Mr Tanner tried to appeal that decision, Lady Justice Arden ruled today that a reasonable litigant would have presented the evidence at the earlier county court hearing, and that there was no grounds for another hearing over whether the drawings are genuine.

She said: "The fault was on the side of the party seeking to adduce the evidence in these circumstances I do not consider that there is any basis on which I could grant permission to appeal."

Evidence that Mr Tanner hoped to introduce to the hearing included a statement from Ambra Draghetti, a leading graphologist, who said: "I cannot but affirm that the signatures found in the Italian drawings are representative of Francis Bacon's handwriting, and therefore are authentic signatures."



                                            Francis Bacon and John Edwards





Faked Bacon drawings sold for £1m worth £480





A brother of the man who inherited Francis Bacon’s estate sold £1 million worth of fake drawings in the artist’s name, a senior judge confirmed yesterday.

In the latest move in the long-running wrangle over Bacon’s legacy, Lady Justice Arden rejected a move by David Edwards to bring forward fresh evidence that the sketches are authentic.

Mr Edwards — whose late brother, John, was Bacon’s close friend and inherited his entire estate — was left bankrupt in 2009 by legal action brought by disgruntled buyers who paid him more than £1 million for the drawings, which have since been denounced as bogus.

The dispute has embroiled Mr Edwards’ boyfriend and antiques partner of 40 years, John Frederick Tanner, to whom Mr Edwards passed £425,000 just before being made bankrupt. In May last year Mr Tanner was ordered to hand over the money to Mr Edwards’ creditors after he failed to argue that it was mostly a repayment of cash advanced to his partner to fund his “champagne lifestyle”.

In the Court of Appeal in London yesterday, Lady Justice Arden rejected a bid by Mr Tanner to bring forward fresh evidence that the sketches were “authentic” and that the money he received from Mr Edwards was no more than his due.

According to an earlier county court judgment, Bacon, a revered Irish-born figurative painter, was a “frequent visitor” to Mr Tanner’s £3 million home in Sudbury, Suffolk, before his death in 1992.

John Edwards died in 2003 and in June 2007 his brother David agreed to sell six drawings — along with lithographs, photographs and other items connected to the artist — for £1 million. In August that year, he sold a further six drawings for £300,000.

The Francis Bacon Authentication Committee, however, said that “the draftsmanship is of a style which is inconsistent with all the sketches and paintings currently attributed to Bacon”.

Martin Harrison, chair of the committee and an eminent Bacon scholar, said that the drawings were “fakes”, consistent “in every way” with the style of other copies.

The buyers launched breach of contract proceedings against Mr Edwards in February 2009. He denied their claims, insisting they had relied on their own valuations and that he had never told them the sketches were by the master’s hand.

However default judgments were entered against him, with the buyers’ damages still to be assessed. The buyers were told that if genuine, the drawings would have been worth more than £3 million. As it was their value was put at some £480.

A bankruptcy petition was issued against Mr Edwards in September 2009. It then emerged that Mr Edwards had paid £425,000 to his boyfriend in two instalments between June and September, 2007 — leaving him with just £128 in the bank.

The trustee applied for the money to be paid out for distribution to Mr Edwards’ creditors at a hearing before District Judge Pelly at Cambridge County Court in May, last year.

Mr Tanner, who runs a thriving antiques business with Mr Edwards — with whom he has had a “loving and stable relationship” since 1973 — told District Judge Pelly that he had lent his partner massive amounts to subsidise his “champagne lifestyle” and that he was “very much a provider for David”.

But the judge, directing that the cash be paid over to the trustee, pointed that Mr Tanner “seriously undermined” his claim that £325,000 of the cash was a loans repayment when he told the Land Registry, in a letter unearthed for the hearing, that it had been given to him for “safekeeping”.

The judge also dismissed Mr Tanner’s assertion that the remaining £100,000 was a gift from Mr Edwards’ mother, finding “unhesitatingly” that the drawings were “fakes”.

In January a High Court judge, Mr Justice Sales, then rejected a bid by Mr Tanner to introduce fresh evidence that among other things purportedly showed the sketches were genuine.

Yesterday Lady Justice Arden agreed. The evidence had been available for him to present at the county court hearing and it would have been reasonable to expect him to do that, she said.

“It might sound very hard, but the question is whether a reasonable litigant would have been able to do it. In an ideal world it would be a good thing to have another trial with the further evidence adduced...”

But she concluded: “The fault was on the side of the party seeking to adduce the evidence — in these circumstances I do not consider that there is any basis on which I could grant permission to appeal.”






                                                                            Francis Bacon in his studio






Francis Bacon and Henry Moore


Sadomasochistic Gambler Vs Immortal Bones




Happily married establishment figure and Royal College of Art tutor, versus a self-taught

sadomasochistic gambler with a fondness for alcohol and the sleek underbelly of Soho









It is difficult not to see this exhibition as a competition of interests and the interesting; the very personalities of both artists are very evident – one only needs to look at the photographs in the exhibition of both artists studios to see the yawning chasm between them. A curatorial decision that seems to play more to their differences than similarities, and we are reminded that the cult of personality also comes to bare; as the viewer brings a foreknowledge of the infamy of one of these artists as well as his art, as a gilded gutter life in Soho meets the life of a fellow of the British Academy and a public figure. As one enters this exhibition, passed the photographs of Bacon’s Reece Mews studio, with its paint-strewn shambolic glamour, paired with photographs of the sedate and organised ‘school room’ of Moore – the scales of personality are already tipping in Bacon’s favour.


There are two ways in which you can view this exhibition. If prejudice is left at the door along with the misguided cult of personality, comparison of the very dichotomy of these artists can lead to the recognition of shared formal concerns; faces lost, distorted, or abstracted, and for both artists at times even non existent; as the likeness of an individual was of no importance to either man, yet the physicality of the human body, and the subsequent abstraction of form and shape is of paramount importance to both artists visions. What at first are diametrically opposed works do on occasion give way to familiar aesthetic concerns of the shape and weight of the figure.


But it is hard to balance these two artists works. Bacon’s feverish sacks of meat are positively fervent set against Moore’s stolid immovable incapacity; Moore is like a muted child being out-screamed by a naughty sibling.


Where Moore regains footing however is in his drawing. This has a dynamism that frankly I can never find in his sculpture; a sense of movement and even urgency that reflects at least an aspect of the supine frail flesh all around it. It is the only occasion for the artist; when he reflects upon war, that Moore is less kind to the reality of the human form, with slight echoes of Baconian angst, Moore’s tepid beauty receives more pain than is usual and becomes all the more vivid for it – both artists having been influenced in their own way by the realities of war.


But for the most part Moore’s human condition is concrete solidity; the unbreakable skeleton shrouded in bronze – here juxtaposed with Bacon’s fleeting and bloodied flesh; his painting both ‘bruiser and bruised’ – and if viewed as a boxing match between these two giants of British Art; Moore’s fair play is taken advantage of at every Baconian opportunity.


But the second way of viewing this exhibition and secret to finding its success is in trying to imagine that Moore’s sculpture is the three dimensional result which – in some ways at least – Bacon often dreamt of; Expressed in a very sculptural way of painting, and equally expressed by a drunken Bacon who at one time actually turned up at Moore’s door demanding lessons in Sculpture. In fact the similarities between Bacon’s sculptural figures and Moore’s curve of form are often prescient as highlighted by Richard Calvocoressi’s and Martin Harrison’s curatorial decisions, if made almost too obvious on occasion.


There is no denying the comparison between these two artists; Moore’s King and Queen reside as a seemingly permanent weight beside Bacon’s Pope Innocent X, a surface reading of this juxtaposition reveals certain formal similarities between the sculptural heads and the painted; yet that raw kinetic vision of Bacon again causes the once timeless osseus matter of Moore to melt away before your very eyes. Bacon’s Lying Figure and Moore’s Reclining Figure are a striking visual collaboration; but Moore’s sculpture is a physical reality whereas Bacon’s figure is a theatrical construct placed in its own caged environment – and is all the more powerful for its sanguineous decadent fantasy.


In that sense Bacon’s fictional sculptural figures behave like objects in an installation – an object within its own universe – as opposed to Moore’s sculptures that are forever separate and reside in our own.


The curatorial attempt to reference academic similarities is sometimes heavy-handed, but the juxtaposition is of significance, highlighting a core value with wildly different and antithetical results.


But aside from formal and conceptual conceits which are present and of interest, when viewing this exhibition there can be no denial of power; For all the curatorial insistence of equality it seems that the psychological response to our fears will always be greater than that of our desires – as Baconian existential horror out-screams Moore’s muted immortal bones.


Bacon Moore: Flesh and Bone, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford until 19 January 2014














Flesh over Bone






One symptom of the rise of the curator as creator is that exhibitions are increasingly expected to justify themselves with arguments. Many recent shows have asked us to make comparisons between more or less successfully paired artists. In 2002 Matisse and Picasso squared up at Tate Modern; this year both Bacon and Moore have been exhibited alongside Rodin, in ‘Bacon and Rodin’ at Ordovas, London (8 February–6 April 2013) and ‘Moore Rodin’ at the Henry Moore Foundation, Perry Green (29 March–27 October 2013). It’s a comparative impulse which can be incredibly fertile, as in last year’s ‘Picasso and Modern British Art’ (Tate Britain, 15 February–15 July 2012) – heavy with both Moore and Bacon – where subtle stylistic genealogies emerged organically.

What you make of ‘Francis Bacon / Henry Moore: Flesh and Bone’ at the Ashmolean depends on whether you accept the curators’ argument, and whether you accept that curators should be making arguments. ‘At a certain level’, writes Richard Calvocoressi, ‘pairing these two giants of modern art may seem an unusual choice: the one a painter whose subject was flux, chance, the arbitrariness of existence; the other a sculptor who created universal symbols of strength and endurance’. The aim is to bring Bacon and Moore ‘together in a way which was perfectly understandable in the ‘60’s’, when they had several joint shows at Marlborough Fine Art.

Up to a point, the strategy works. Strip away the layers of accumulated critical sediment – Moore’s reputational decline after his death followed by his recent resurgence; Bacon’s steady ascent – and it’s clear that both shared formal if not moral concerns. They may have approached their subject, the human body after the traumas of the 20th century, from opposite angles, but there is plenty of common ground.

We’ve become used to Moore as the archetypal public artist – those monumental pieces plonked down across the land; all that do-goodery and those committee memberships – but it’s his quiet, smaller works that are revelatory here. Voyeuristic drawings of sleepers sheltering from the Blitz and miners taking a break are Blakean in their gentle attentiveness to the body at rest. Bacon was sceptical of these works, but in their peeping Tom. observationalism they have something in common with his Painting (1950), with its Rothko flourishes, in which a body and its shadow are glimpsed between two solid dark bars, as though catching a glance of a bather through the crack of a door, and Man Kneeling in Grass (1952), a figure seen from behind stooping on a lawn, caught unawares.

Then there are the compositional similarities. Moore once said that ‘a sculpture jumping off its pedestal is something I greatly dislike’, and much of Bacon’s work, despite its movement, aspires to a condition of sculptural monumentality. He once said that ‘the greatest images man has so far made have been in sculpture’, and Francis Warner, who knew both artists, recalls him tentatively asking whether Moore would give him lessons in sculpture. He never pursued the request, yet through thinking of his paintings ‘as sculptures’, he told David Sylvester in 1971, ‘it suddenly came to me how I could make them in paint, and do them much better in paint’.

Pitching an exhibition as a ‘conversation’ between artists is probably a good way of securing loans, but it inevitably risks becoming a competition, and the unavoidable truth here is that Bacon did do it much better in paint. Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion is the star, its pedestalled furies screaming across the room at Moore’s totemic Three Upright Motives (1955–56), which really want to be outside. Kneeling Figure (1982) is deeply sculptural – a body on a plinth, elevated from the ground on which it sits. Study from Portrait of Pope Innocent X knocks spots off Moore’s sedate King and Queen which stands next to it. An uneven match, then, but provoking for all that.

‘Francis Bacon / Henry Moore: Flesh and Bone’ is at the Ashmolean until 19 January 2014.






                                                                         ‘Francis Bacon / Henry Moore: Flesh and Bone’





Francis Bacon/Henry Moore, Ashmolean Museum



A curious exhibition comparing two titans of British art can only have one winner, says Alastair Smart





Apologies both for the presumption and the punning – but, so convinced was I in advance what my opinion of this exhibition would be, that I was already thinking of potential headlines on my train ride up to Oxford. “Torrid Henry fried by Bacon” was one; “Bacon sizzles, Moore’s the pity” another.

Presenting the work of 20th-century Britain’s two biggest artists, sculptor Henry Moore and painter Francis Bacon, side-by-side in a museum for the first time, the show aims to reveal little-known parallels and similarities.

But where exhibition pairings are concerned, side-by-side actually means head-to-head. What may have been conceived, curatorially, as two artists in conversation always ends up as two artists in competition. And in such a scenario, I could only really foresee one winner: bruiser Bacon.

Put crudely, where the painter’s visceral visions of writhing subjects expressed an outrage at the absurdity of human existence, the sculptor’s languorous, rhythmic figures seemed to reflect an essentially benign view of the universe. A case of existential howls and universal serenity.

Take the formative influence on both men of Picasso. Moore’s two Composition figures of 1931 recall the Spaniard’s “Bone” figures of the late Twenties (in which he radically remodelled the human skeleton). In Moore’s hands, Picasso’s violence is softened; his harsh forms blunted and rendered sinuous.

As for Bacon, frustratingly he destroyed most of his early work; yet, by 1944’s Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, he’s taking Picasso to a darker level. His nauseating monsters, with outsized bodies and polyp heads, gasp for breath in chambers of airless orange, representatives of a warped world of war and death camps.

By boldly displaying these two titans together, the curators deserve credit for trying to cast new light on artists we think we know so well. But the risk is that the agonistic set-up, mixing paintings and sculptures throughout, will confirm prejudices rather than dispel them.

For me, Moore’s insipidity is only enforced by seeing his sedentary bronze King and Queen (inspired by a hieratic Egyptian sculpture in the British Museum) beside Bacon’s own seated, authority figure, Portrait of Pope Innocent X. The royal couple seem inert compared to Bacon’s pontiff, a phantom of extemporised brushstrokes who seems to be disintegrating before our very eyes, as if his throne were an electric chair.

The show’s insurmountable problem remains the baggage and bias one brings to it. I surely won’t be the only visitor harbouring a preference for one artist over the other.

They remain such diametrically opposed figures, both as artists and men, it’s difficult not to take sides. Educated at the Royal College of Art (where he later taught), Moore was the happily married, establishment figure, who inhabited a vast Hertfordshire estate, sat on the board of countless foundations and supplied huge bronzes to urban plazas across the globe. Upon his death in 1986, a thanksgiving service was held at Westminster Abbey.

Bacon, by contrast, was a self-taught, solitary bachelor with a fondness for drink, gambling and sadomasochistic gay encounters in the shadows of Soho. Upon his death in 1992, nobody was invited to the cremation. It’s hard to get beyond the clichéd dichotomy here of edgy outsider and comfortable insider.

If, though, you can leave your prejudices at the entrance somehow, this show certainly has its rewards. Much of the focus is on Bacon’s strivings to achieve a sculptural vocabulary in painterly form. He longed to create a 3D vision in 2D: as evident as anywhere in the elastic forms of Two Studies from the Human Body, inspired by Eadweard Muybridge’s photos of a discus-thrower

Though he never made a sculpture himself, he often flirted with the idea. One drunken evening in the mid-Fifties, it’s said he turned up at Moore’s door demanding lessons, even though the artists were barely acquainted.

Both men were profoundly affected by the Blitz, and Moore became his most “Bacon-esque” in resulting works. In his famous drawings of people sheltering from air raids in the London Underground, his subjects adopt such extreme body positions they’ve been compared to the corpse casts of Pompeii.

With Falling Warrior,  meanwhile, he managed to capture the agony of a dying soldier, in one final, coiling fight for life. In a neat juxtaposition, the warrior – legs apart – is displayed facing Bacon's nude portrait of Sixties socialite Henrietta Moraes in similar pose, splayed and serpentine on her bed. The implication? That there’s a latent sexual force to Moore’s work and that, perhaps, he was as versed as Bacon in the competing Freudian forces of Eros and Thanatos.

Rodin was a key reference point for both artists, too. Moore increasingly admired the sense of pressure from within the Frenchman’s figures, of bones pushing through to the surface. 1951's Reclining Figure: Festival duly mixes passages of sinuous flesh with boney tautness.

The work is paired (for obvious postural reasons) with Bacon’s Lying figure in a Mirror, yet the painter took very different lessons from Rodin. Dynamic disposition, for one, as well as animated surfaces, which Bacon adapted into vigorous brushstroke.

So does the exhibition work? Well, yes and no. As expected, quiet man Moore loses the shouting match emphatically. Yet, for all their differences, seeing the pair’s work side by side, one is struck by their shared fascination with the human form and condition.

They looked beyond the landscape and narrative traditions of so much British art and, accordingly, found acclaim far beyond British shores.




     King and Queen 1952-53 by Henry Moore and Study from a Portrait of Pope Innocent X 1965 by Francis Bacon


Francis Bacon/Henry Moore: Flesh and Bone 



Ashmolean Museum, Oxford



The first joint exhibition of Francis Bacon and Henry Moore for 50 years reveals startling similarities




In 1970, Richard Calvocoressi, now the director of the Henry Moore Foundation, attended a lecture given by Francis Warner, a tutor in English literature at St Peter's College, Oxford, and its subject was Francis Bacon and Henry Moore. Slides were shown and a thesis was expounded: it was Warner's conviction that, having lived through two world wars (Moore saw active service in the first) and having experienced the blitz (Bacon was in Air Raid Precautions), the two artists were engaged in a similar enterprise. Their work, he thought, aimed to restore the body "to a kind of dignified, animal resignation" in the face of much human suffering.

Of the two, Moore was the kinder, the more tender. His sculptures were stoic, and spoke of his sense of family (Moore was a loved child). Bacon's vision was bleaker, all straining sinews and yelps of pain (as a child in Ireland, he claimed, he was regularly horse-whipped). But at heart they were resonantly alike. For both men, art was about ribs and forearms and eye sockets. It was about flesh and bone.

To say this little talk made an impression on the student Calvocoressi is something of an understatement – though at the time, Warner's thesis was not particularly controversial; the Marlborough Gallery, which represented both artists, had showed them together in 1963, and their affinities were widely accepted. (In a perceptive review of that exhibition, Myfanwy Piper wrote that Moore "never forgets… the strength of the bone beneath the flesh" while Bacon "never forgets that flesh is meat".) But in the years following the artists' deaths – Moore in 1986 and Bacon in 1992 – this wasn't an orthodoxy to which most people felt inclined to cling; Moore's reputation declined, and Bacon's soared, and a kind of sloughing off took place, the sculptor coming to inhabit a sunnier and much less intellectual critical space. Calvocoressi, however, never lost his faith, and at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford he has built a wonderful kind of a shrine to it – youthful passion now enriched with great expertise – by co-curating with Martin Harrison, editor of the Bacon catalogue raisonné, the first joint show of work by Moore and Bacon in 50 years.

It's an extremely intense exhibition, its startling juxtapositions pushing you to rethink these artists and the century that built them, and in this sense it works on its own terms, thought-provoking and sharp. But it also, I think, stands as a brilliant pendant to the Tate's 2010 retrospective of Moore, a survey that showed his darker side, and caused in many of his doubters – I was one – an epiphany of reappraisal.

Moore was a sculptor who liked to draw, and Bacon was a painter who had a keen interest in sculpture, often threatening to take it up. The Ashmolean's show, subtitled Flesh and Bone, begins with work by the artists who most influenced them: Michelangelo and Rodin. This is interesting, but hardly revelatory. It's only once you start moving through their careers side by side that the jaw starts to swing.

It sounds simplistic to talk of similarities, as though this show were just a game of snap. But they're impossible to ignore. Pause in front of Moore's drawing Standing Nude (1924) and Bacon's Sketch of a Reclining Figure(1959) and you will see that both artists were drawn to the thigh, ham-like and swollen-seeming. Gaze at Moore's vast bronze, King and Queen (1952-53), and then turn swiftly to look at Bacon's Study from a Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1965), and they might have been commissioned for the same show – a survey of power, perhaps, and how it may corrupt. (Bacon's pope, it occurred to me for the first time, is sitting on a plinth, part man and part statue.) High above you in the middle of the three galleries hangs Bacon's Second Version of Triptych 1944 (1988), a semi-human thing, ravenous and terrifying. Moore's Crucifixion I, II and III (1982), also a triptych if taken together, are a much less daunting prospect, soft charcoal contriving to make the visitor forget that these arms are being pulled from their sockets. But all six works speak strongly of the search for enlightenment of a pair of faithless men – not to mention the fact that for Moore, as for Bacon, art was in itself a kind of religion.

Again and again it strikes you: the shapes they liked to use – a twisted back, a contorted shoulder; the absences they relished – missing features on a face, a howl taking the place of a mouth, a nose flattened or twisted or torn away; the way that, in a century of abstraction, these two cleaved to the figurative as if to a life raft. The word "embrace" kept floating into my mind, though of course Bacon's lonely bodies – see Two Figures (1975) – have no choice but to hold themselves, hands grasping ankles protectively.

And at the end of the show, when you ask yourself the necessary question – were Moore and Bacon the greatest British artists of the 20th century? – you find, or at least I did, that the answer is more complicated than you thought. On Bacon, my feelings are unchanged: he leaves me more uneasy and more exhilarated than any other artist. When it comes to Moore, though, everything is in flux. The furies have returned and they hover above his work, gloomy shadows that screech and squawk. My conscience is pricked. He and Bacon, I see now, have this odd, unhappy solidarity, and it's a bond that makes you wonder at Moore's achievement all over again, mystery and pain taking over where once there were only civic squares and a smooth, rather bland kind of beauty.



Francis Bacon/Henry Moore:


Flesh and Bone, Ashmolean Museum



What seems at first an unlikely pairing is anything but

in this striking exhibition of two giants of British art




It is a shock, in this succinct exhibition of two British colossi of the past century, Henry Moore (1898-1986) and Francis Bacon (1909-1992), to be reminded of just how colossal and original are their achievements. We are shown their curiously affecting affinities, in their adherence to the human figure at the core of their work, and reminded through the display of documents and catalogues of their truly international success, both critical and financial. 

The show is subtitled Flesh and Bone. Bacon is the purveyor of flesh in all kinds of livid and brilliant hues: greens, eerie pale rose pinks and shocking reds, sepulchral whites and dirty browns. Moore dissolves flesh into totemic bronze structures, conjures unlikely anatomies, fragments of bone or fossil, onto a gigantic scale. And his renderings in drawings and sculpture of monumental female form, are just that: monumental.

e are introduced to the display by two huge photographs of their studios, and here the contrast and compare, the debate and argument of the show, is subtly clarified.  Bacon’s huge heap of just plain mess: paint pots, brushes, postcards and reproductions on the wall, piles of paper scraps, which comprised the hundreds of visual sources he scrutinised and transformed, carpeting the floor. These indicate obsessions of course but also an ordered chaos. By some alchemy these mounds of rubbish were the source material for stupendously emotional, stridently coloured paintings, mostly large, always gold-framed and glazed so that, strikingly and even horribly direct as they are, they also keep a distance. Look at these wild creatures but only through the glass, darkly. 

Moore’s studio at first glance seems an oasis of calm. But even here there are hundreds of small objects all waiting their turn as the source of the sculptures that almost always recall some animated form: life breathed into geological and biological fragments. Moore too could conjure monsters from these innocent scraps; on view here Composition, 1934 seems as though skeleton remains are about to march on the unsuspecting; Three Points, 1939-1940 suggest some sharp speared jaw about to consume an invisible nutrient wrested out of the air.

Both artists call on antiquity, admiring Egyptian art. Moore’s Shelter Drawing: Three Fates, 1941, are huge female creatures whose heads are nearly invisible. Bacon's Second Version of Triptych 1944, painted in 1988, is a trio of monsters, menacing yet curiously wistful and oddly waif-like. They were both atheists, but religious imagery also affects their work. Moore drew crucifixions and mothers and children; Bacon not only did masterly transcriptions of Velazquez’s papal portraits, the pontiff screaming, his 1988 triptych reprises his earlier Three Figures at the Base of the Crucifixion, while also recalling pagan fate or Furies.

They share many of the same influences and looked at some of the same artists, as the inclusion in the exhibition of drawings by Michelangelo and drawings and sculpture by Rodin make clear. Picasso too was often called upon.

The exhibition is  more than the sum of its parts. It is all too easy to dismiss much of Moore, especially post-war when it seems there was almost a production line of huge bronzes, skeletons of unknown creatures blown up into giants, sometimes turning into a bland modernism-lite. Financial success and, in particular, success in North America, enabled assistants and the cost of casting. And sometimes Bacon too is dismissively characterised as just gruesome grand guignol.

But seeing them together enhances them both by showing us how cleverly and passionately they used their sources, to different but allied ends. We realise that both worked continually in an extraordinary area between figuration and abstraction: yes, everything is recognisable but also impossible, as layers of observed reality are twisted, distorted, transmogrified into something fantastical. 

In Bacon, faces snarl, mouths grimace, teeth threaten, bodies writhe in impossible postures and monsters appear, yet there is always a strange vitality and order. He worked not only directly from observed human beings, but continually from photographs. He claimed to go where paint led, but made surprisingly careful preparations, drawing order from chaos.

For Moore, close observation of the natural world, from animals to landscape, with the stones, pebbles and detritus of beach and garden that he continually acquired and arranged, are conjured anew in the studio. A series of Moore’s drawings shows us surrealist objects, and those monumental stoical creatures who endured the London bombings, both groups set in shimmering vistas. Bacon caged his creatures, confining them to strangely airless interiors in the limbo land he created.

The exhibition shows us our age of anxiety in visual terms. The comparisons which show us links between what seems at first an unlikely pairing – the tortured, magnificent, and grudgingly beautiful paintings by the urban Bacon, where all is in a state of flux, uncertain and on the point of dissolution, and the apparent solidity and serenity of much of Moore. In the light of Bacon, Moore’s solidity dissolves into a questioning of reality, an uneasy uncertainty. The art of Moore becomes darker and more erotic, more disturbing. Dark rainbows of vivid colour give Bacon’s figures a defiantly pessimistic lightheartedness. This genial horror is just what it is, get on with it; his art is a series of impertinent gestures to a terrible universe. Unmissable.



       Installation shot: Henry Moore's King and Queen, 1952-3 and Francis Bacon's Study for Portrait of Pope Innocent X, 1965



First Look: Bacon/Moore at the Ashmolean








In this ongoing series, Apollo previews a range of international exhibitions, asking curators to reveal their personal highlights and curatorial impulses.

Martin Harrison is the curator (with Richard Calvocoressi) of ‘Francis Bacon / Henry Moore: Flesh and Bone’ at the Ashmolean, Oxford


Tell us a bit about the exhibition...

Bacon and Moore were Britain’s leading figurative artists in the second half of the 20th century. Our aim has been to inform both by juxtaposing works that address the theme of the human body from different viewpoints – to explore what they had in common and how they diverged.


What makes this a distinctive show?


Although Moore made drawings, he is best known as a sculptor. The sustained dialogue between works in two and three dimensions is what makes this exhibition distinctive, and, I hope, fascinating.


How did you come to curate this exhibition?


Richard Calvocoressi, Director of the Henry Moore Foundation, is also a member of my Bacon Authentication Committee; I think the idea of combining our shared interests was originally his, one to which, as a lover of sculpture, I readily agreed.


What is likely to be the highlight of the exhibition?


For me there are many, but I am looking forward to seeing Moore’s huge Upright Motives in the same room as Bacon’s 1988 triptych Second Version of Triptych, 1944.


And what’s been the most exciting personal discovery for you?

It was really in putting the show together with Richard, which we did mainly in three intense days at my house in London. It was genuinely stimulating and informative to find how the works bounced off one another.

What’s the greatest challenge you’ve faced in preparing this exhibition?

The works were very carefully chosen. The challenge comes in when you have to persuade private individuals and public institutions to lend the specific works you have decided you need. We were very fortunate in this respect.

How are you using the gallery space? What challenges will the hang/installation pose?

There are two quite low rooms and one tall one, so scale became a significant factor in arranging the works. Beyond that some of the Moores presented problems of both size and weight.

Which other works would you have liked to have included?

I suppose with Bacon almost everyone planning an exhibition wants to borrow Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944), but no one can because Tate, quite rightly, can’t let it travel for conservation reason.

‘Francis Bacon / Henry Moore: Flesh and Bone’ is at the Ashmolean, Oxford from 12 September 2013–19 January 2014



Pitting Francis Bacon against Henry Moore is a cruel, one-sided brawl



A new exhibition in Oxford shows that while Moore may have been the better man, Bacon overpowers him every time




Comparing two artists is never pretty. On paper it may make sombre academic sense to set two famous creators beside one another, to examine how they bounced ideas like tennis pros playing a friendly. But if that's how curators imagine such encounters, the reality is that we get into passionate arguments about the crudely obvious question – who's best?

It can get bloody.

At the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, a decent man is being beaten to a pulp. Henry Moore does not know what has hit him. Francis Bacon, drunk and shrieking foul-mouthed insults, won't leave poor old Moore alone. For every idealistic figure Moore creates, Bacon counters with a violent assault on the human form that draws the eye and transfixes the mind.

Francis Bacon/Henry Moore: Flesh and Bone, which opens at the Ashmolean on 12 September, darkly illuminates the nature of genius, for it proves the devil really does have all the best tunes. Bacon's paintings are rich worlds of colour in which terrible things are going on. A pope fades in his throne to collisions of gore and spectral traces of flimsy lace, a man's spectacles become black pools of nothingness, a bestial head rots in the dark.

Painting, for Bacon, is a terrible luxury. His purples and crimsons pay homage to the grandeur of baroque art – his popes are all versions of Velázquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X. Amid the glory of ripe, painterly magnificence he reveals glimpses of a cruelty too terrible to be fully seen. His canvases are disclosures of horror within a velvet palace.

I have not said much about Moore. What's to say? Next to Bacon he looks colossally mediocre. A bronze king and queen sit inertly between two riotous Bacon canvases. The paintings swallow the sculpture whole. I can barely see it, it's vanishing, it's gone.

Clearly, this is not what a visitor to the exhibition is supposed to think. In recent years, Moore's reputation has soared. He is revered as a leftwing modernist hero whose works are defended by the great and the good as national treasures.

This exhibition reveals how absurdly inflated and unjustified this cult of Moore is. It is disastrous, for Moore, to show his dutiful sculptures alongside Bacon's exuberantly vital paintings. Sure, they both portrayed the human figure. But Moore's bodies are so academic and sexless and painless beside Bacon's sublime contortions.

Moore may have been the better man – a socialist and a public figure – but he was not the better artist. And even that sense of virtue starts to fade, here. In the end, Bacon seems not only the more brilliant artist but the more truly compassionate and tragic recorder of the human condition. He looks into the violent heart of the 20th century and sees the pity of it.

Both artists depicted crucifixions, but in a Christian scheme of things, Bacon would be the soul saved – the prodigal son of European art.



       Swallowed whole … Henry Moore's King and Queen sculpture sits next to Francis Bacon's Pope Innocent X in the Ashmolean




Francis Bacon and Henry Moore:


when opposites attract



Francis Bacon and Henry Moore had little in common  their backgrounds, lifestyle and working practices were worlds apart.

But a new joint exhibition reveals a shared obsession with the human condition and physical construction





The art of Francis Bacon (19091992) and Henry Moore (18981986), displayed in dialogue at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, will surely make one of the most startling exhibitions of the year. Over 60 works ranging from an early concrete carving, Mask, 1929 by Henry Moore, to Second Version of Triptych, painted in 1988 by Bacon, provide this provocative and illuminating meeting of the two colossi, the best-known British artists of the past century, who both had two retrospectives at the Tate in their lifetimes (a distinction only equalled by Richard Hamilton).

The iconoclastic, tortured, vivid and continually metamorphosing figurations of Bacon are seemingly in sharp contrast to Moore's resolute, even sturdy sculptures. But the aspirations of Bacon and Moore, as this exhibition demonstrates, are also curiously complementary. The show's curators, Martin Harrison, editor of the forthcoming complete catalogue of Bacon's work, and Richard Calvocoressi, scholar of surrealism and expressionism, and currently head of the Henry Moore Foundation, sum up this connection with the subtitle Flesh and Bone.

Both Bacon and Moore were octogenerians when they died, but their long lives could not have been more different. Even their appearance somehow echoed their disparity: the sculptor unassuming, strong-featured, robust; Bacon's unusual physiognomy resembling that of a squashed feline face. The heterosexual working-class Moore, the son of a miner, was embraced by the great and the good. Kenneth Clarke, director of the National Gallery and chairman of the War Artists Advisory Committee, was a powerful patron. Moore was made a fellow of the British Academy  and the memorial service after his death was held at Westminster Abbey.

By contrast, the homosexual Bacon was by birth a member of the upper classes. His father was an army captain, an unsuccessful racehorse trainer and a collateral descendant of that renaissance man, Sir Francis Bacon. Bacon was an habitué of drinking clubs and an inveterate gambler who eschewed conventional behaviour and apparently did need to be accepted by any conventional standards. With the Sexual Offences Act only passed in 1967, it is hard to believe that Bacon's passionate and even violent attachments escaped official attention.

The work of both artists was consciously predicated on the human figure, Bacon concentrating on flesh, so mortal, so easily corrupted, and Moore on bone, the human remnant that survives for millennia. All forms were natural to him, as he often stated, and he was concerned with the souvenirs of bodies, long weathered by sun, earth and water – although he also managed to conjure monumentality from the shape of sheep, and was fascinated by animals. Both men admired the same artists, from Dégas to Picasso (both Moore and Bacon were included in the Tate Modern's exhibition last year of seven British artists influenced by Picasso). They held Michelangelo in high esteem, and Moore was thrilled to have a small summer house near the marble quarries at Carrara where he knew the skilled craftsmen. Moore regarded time spent in Italy as a combination of pilgrimage and homage, one that probably reinforced his sense of his own worth.

Rodin was also influential on both artists, and he and Michelangelo are included in the Ashmolean show. Coincidentally the Moore Rodin exhibition examining this relationship is on view at the Henry Moore Foundation, Perry Green, until the end of October. By suggesting, almost covertly, the sensual aspects of Moore's preoccupations, bone thrusting against bone, this show is an oblique preparation for the Moore-Bacon alliance.

Bone, for Moore, implied fossil and flint, stone and shell, as well as the human form, flesh stripped away. The seventh of eight children, he would massage his exhausted mother's aching back; this early tactile experience was later translated, having been informed by his admiration for pre-Colombian sculpture, into abstracted reclining figures that also recalled the undulations of Yorkshire landscape. But nothing was really accidental or perhaps even spontaneous for Moore; carving required meticulous planning and modelling took great care.

Due to physical constraints and intellectual purpose, the organisers of the Ashmolean exhibition have eschewed monumental Moore for a succession of surprisingly overt figurative works, carved heads in stone, figures in plaster and bronze, variations on helmet and animal heads, family groups and his kings and queens – all directly comprehensible as animated human, animal and even robotic creatures, and all accompanied by drawings equally focused on living beings done in a characteristic shimmer of mixed media veils of watercolour, gouache, crayon and ink.

Moore is now the most geographically widely distributed sculptor in the history of art and the most displayed outside the confines of museum and gallery. From Toronto to London, Vienna to Hong Kong, no major city is complete until there is a big bronze somewhere on public view. Nearly 70 cities in the US have a Moore planted outside, and America is just one of nearly 40 countries to host a public Moore. Their substantial nature is satisfying, the air of playfulness intriguing, the sexual and erotic quality – it is there – is subtle, and the sense of structure and solidity oddly comforting.

He taught for decades at the Royal College and at Chelsea, and several of his assistants have become major artists in their own right, including Philip King and Anthony Caro. Moore's drawings of people sheltering in the underground during the Blitz are still symbols of enduring stoicism: several are on view in the exhibition. Millions know his work who do not know his name.

The dual purpose of The Henry Moore Foundation, initiated in his lifetime, was to advance the cause of sculpture and his own work; it was also tax efficient. He lived modestly but his enormous financial success enabled him to acquire the work of artists whom he admired intensely, Cézanne, Seurat and Rodin among them. And through his foundation he perhaps attempted to essay some posthumous control over his reputation, to make a bid for immortality, and to support sculpture.

Nothing so stable for Bacon: he was thrown out by his father at 17 and had spent time in Berlin and Paris by the time he was 18. Back in London his old nanny, Jessie Lightfoot, lived with him until her death in 1951. Alongside drink and gambling, sex was always a priority (he shared several characteristics with his close friend Lucian Freud: both obsessed with flesh and gambling). Although a severe asthmatic, he was a smoker, a risk-taker in all sorts of ways, both personally and artistic. He taught very briefly at the Royal College of Art, more by his occasional presence than anything else, and was a loner in his work. He destroyed an enormous amount. Valerie Beston, a square-shaped, back-room lady at Marlborough Fine Art, was Bacon's minder and friend, who certainly needed her own quietly mordant sense of humour (I remember her ability to express herself with a well-timed snort), and it was she who often retrieved work destined for the scrapheap. Bacon heaped up enormous amounts of mass media ephemera, a compost heap of inspiration that included postcard reproductions of Velázquez and Van Gogh. He did not want to see the originals. Bacon refused all honours. Nor did he collect. Characteristically, he said he entered the world with nothing and that is how he would leave.





                                                                                                  Second Version of Triptych 1944, 1988 Francis Bacon




Bacon has been consistently in critical and commercial fashion over the past decades, the unease and disturbance so strikingly apparent in his imagery expressive of a mood of universal apprehension. Flesh, of course, is the eponymous Bacon, with his vividly textured colourations of distorted people engaged in sinister or sensual pursuits, at times both at once, often in agonising postures as though flesh were dissolving or at the point of liquefying, even putrefying. Pairs are engaged in seemingly impossible anatomical contortions. Figures are set in interiors that often look like cages, and almost all are indoors. There is the obsessive portraiture too – again seen through a Baconian looking glass as quietly surreal as anything found by Alice. The living being is stripped emotionally, and at times writhing in sexual abandon, in anticipation of death throes, the human being as animal.

But, as Bacon said himself, he did not see his paintings as horror but as life: "I deform and dislocate people into appearance; or hope to." Behind every figure there is a real person, and many a person, from grandee to friend, sat for Bacon. He also shared remarkable patrons with Moore, notably Robert and Lisa Sainsbury, of whom he painted affecting portraits. He claimed accident in art, with the use of paint leading him on – but of course he planned, superimposing layer on layer. The exhibition points out his fascination with sculpture, although he never attempted it in spite of his deep interest in Rodin and his mindful flirtation with sculptural concepts. (He once even thought of asking Moore for lessons.)

Some 80 major museums worldwide possess Bacon's paintings and five years ago he was described as the most sought-after postwar artist anywhere. For a while he held the record for the highest price paid at auction for any postwar work – the $86.3m paid in 2008 at Sotheby's New York for the luxuriously horrifying Triptych of 1976, which includes a tableau of a bird of prey devouring a human torso. And prices have remained very high: Bacon's total output was not huge for 40 years of work. Meanwhile, Moore's 6ft Reclining Figure, a controversial contribution to the Festival of Britain in 1951, sold for £19.1m at Christie's London in February last year, the most expensive British sculpture yet at auction. Prices are a crude indicator of quality, of course, but a fine indicator of buzz.

So Moore and Bacon, in different ways, are news. Both artists were surrounded in life and posthumously by the trappings of art historical and market success. Bacon and Moore also shared the backing of two of the most eminent and influential critics, writers and exhibition curators of the period, David Sylvester and John Russell. The complete catalogue of Moore's work already exists – needless to say his records are in meticulous order, and his studios are on permanent view at the Henry Moore Foundation. Bacon's complete catalogue is in process. His chaotic studio – 7,000 items including over 100 slashed canvases – has been painstakingly conserved and is on permanent view at the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin.

Bacon and Moore together have been seen before on a small scale in shows at their shared commercial gallery, Marlborough Fine Art, and in other gallery anthologies, but never in a museum and with this level of attention. It certainly makes you look – and think: the sculpture of Moore becomes darker, even more powerfully emotive, and the fervent, savage emotion of Bacon's paintings more formally conceived and highly wrought.

What we are asked to contemplate are two kinds of artists, visibly so different, yet linked in so many ways. Neither was religious, yet Christian imagery is quarried for their art. What they have in common is an obsession with the human condition, perhaps more individual on the part of Bacon and more generalised on the part of Moore, and extraordinary international achievement, both worldly and aesthetic.







                                                     Bacon's Portrait of Man with Glasses





  New Bacon Exhibit to Come to Moscow in 2014



   The Moscow Times 27 August 2013 | Issue 5200






              Nurse from Battleship Potemkin


In 2014, an exhibit documenting the works of British abstract painter Francis Bacon is to open in Moscow as part of the UK-Russia Year of Culture. Motions were set in place years ago by the former director of the Pushkin Museum, Irina Antonova, who left the post at the beginning of July.

The new director of the Pushkin Museum, Marina Loshak, told RIA Novosti that the idea to hold an exhibition of Bacon's works was conceived by Antonova many years ago. Antonova even spent time in England to gather items for display in the show.

However, the exhibit never took place, and no official explanation was ever given as to why the idea was derailed.

"I discussed next year and the exhibition with her [Antonova]" said Loshak, reporting on a phone conversation between her and Antonova: "We have to do an exhibition of Bacon...I was a great friend to Bacon and his wife, went to their house, and took things away from the shop," Antonova reportedly said.

The Irish-born Bacon died in 1992, and over 25 countries currently hold collections of his works, spread out over some 80 museums. However, some of his paintings were more directly influenced by Russian culture, including his 1957 work Study for the Nurse in the Battleship Potemkin, based on the screaming mouth of a nurse in the famous Odessa steps sequence, which also inspired many of his other related artworks.

His art was exhibited once before in Moscow: In 1988, English dealer James Birch displayed Bacon's paintings, including Study for the Nurse, at the Central House of Artists on Krymsky Val. The opening was met with a frosty reception, according to contemporary reports from then Independent journalist Andrew Graham-Dixon.

Graham-Dixon's article from the same year recalled that a Soviet general aired suspicions that Bacon's paintings were evidence of a "sick psyche," and another Russian bystander adding "I don't think it is possible for great art to be so unpleasant," labelling the subjects "monsters."

The Pushkin Museum retained documents related to Antonova's own trip and fully intends to take advantage of the fresh possibility of holding the exhibit. Loshak rhetorically asked the agency how the museum could "not build upon" the earlier idea. She mentioned the additional possibility of the Bacon exhibit taking place at another venue, the Hermitage.

Upcoming plans for the Pushkin Museum are numerous, the interview revealed. In the forthcoming months, it will also host an exhibition dedicated to the composer and conductor Benjamin Britten as well as displays of large private collections.

Among them will be items from the stores of Polish painter and set designer Tadeusz Kantor, which will include works by fauvist-surrealist artist Marc Chagall and Leon Bakst, who after his earlier paintings went on to design costumes for Ballets Russes. In December, the museum will also be holding an exhibition to celebrate the jubilee of Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

2014 was officially designated the bilateral UK-Russia Year of Culture in March when Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and British Foreign Secretary William Hague signed a joint statement declaring that embassies in both countries would be responsible for a comprehensive program of events as part of a long-standing cultural exchange.





      Study for the Nurse displaying an agonized expression, painted in 1957




Francis Bacon exhibition heads to Pushkin Museum





To mark 2014 as the year of Great Britain in Russian, the Pushkin Museum will hold an exhibition with the works of famed British painter Francis Bacon (1909-1992), Marina Loshak, the director of the museum, told RIA Novosti.

“Next year, there will be a Francis Bacon exhibition in our museum as well as at the Hermitage – and this makes me very happy,” Loshak said.

Loshak explained that the idea to hold the first ever Bacon exhibition originated with her predecessor, former director Irina Antonova. Antonova had even traveled to England to pick out the pieces for the exhibition. However, at one point, her plans went awry – though there is no official explanation as to what happened. The Pushkin Museum, meanwhile, retained documents related to Antonova’s earlier trip.

“How can we not build upon [Antonova’s idea]?” Loshak said, explaining that she wanted to continue what Antonova had originally set out to do.

Before the end of the year, the Pushkin Museum will hold a series of exhibitions, including one dedicated to dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov and composer Benjamin Britten, as well as one dedicated to the jubilee of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. As part of the traditional “December Nights,” the Pushkin Museum will also exhibit part of the Vyacheslav Kantor collection, which includes works by Chagall, Serov, Bulatov and Kabakov.  



Legends Moore and Bacon reunited in museum show





THE Ashmolean Museum will host the first joint exhibition of two of the 20th century’s most well-known modern artists for half a century.

On show will be 20 paintings by Francis Bacon beside 20 sculptures and 20 drawings by Henry Moore.

Called Francis Bacon Henry Moore: Flesh and Bone, it will run from September 12 until January 19, 2014.

Professor Christopher Brown, director of the Ashmolean, said: “This is one of the most ambitious and exciting exhibitions we have mounted since we re-opened in 2009.

“It compares the two greatest British artists of the 20th century, and promises to be both visually thrilling and immensely thought-provoking.”

The works have been borrowed from public and private collections and selected by Martin Harrison, editor of the Francis Bacon catalogue raisonné, and Richard Calvocoressi, director of The Henry Moore Foundation.

Moore and Bacon were both born before the First World War, in which Moore was just old enough to serve in the trenches – an experience that had a profound effect on his work.

Meanwhile Bacon’s consciousness of civil unrest in Ireland, where he spent part of his childhood and youth, introduced him to violence at an early age.

As the war ended, a group exhibition opened at the Lefevre Gallery in London in which Bacon showed his Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion which propelled him into the limelight for the first time. In the same exhibition, Moore showed two sculptures from the 1930s and 14 wartime drawings.

The pair exhibited together on two other occasions in the 1960s but since then their work has not been shown together.

Both Bacon and Moore were inspired by their love of sculpture, especially that of Michelangelo and Rodin. In recognition of this influence, the Beaumont Street museum will be showing work by these two artists from its famous holdings in the first gallery of the exhibition.



How Francis Bacon turned to sculpture master Henry Moore for help



New exhibition shows unknown interaction between two greats of 20th-century art




Both were heavyweights of 20th-century art, known for their striking images of the human form, but painter Francis Bacon and sculptor Henry Moore kept a respectful distance – beyond shared exhibitions and some barbed mutual criticism.

Now a new picture of their relationship has emerged with the revelation that Bacon approached the sculptor to ask for lessons in his art form. Moore did not rise to the challenge, and Bacon never did create a sculpture, but imagining what might have been is exciting art historians, who discovered the story while researching a new exhibition on the two cultural giants for the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford this autumn.  

The revelation came from Moore's daughter, Mary, and Oxford don Francis Warner, who was a friend to both when he was a young academic in the early 1970s, and was asked by Bacon to relay the request to Moore.

Warner, now emeritus fellow of St Peter's College, Oxford, said: "Francis had become interested in taking on some sculpture. He was thinking sculptural forms – 3D. I don't think it was a whimsy, but that he genuinely wanted to see if he could expand a bit, and obviously Moore was the big man. They knew each other, but it was a guarded affection. They were like two lions in a forest, utterly different people."

Recalling Moore's reaction to the request, he said: "He [Moore] was very courteous and never followed up. That's the way he operated. [Afterwards, Bacon] did ask once. I said, 'I don't think it's gone anywhere'. He said, 'Oh well'."

The Ashmolean exhibition, titled Francis Bacon Henry Moore: Flesh and Bone, will show 20 paintings by Bacon alongside 20 sculptures and 20 drawings by Moore, lent by public and private collections and selected by Martin Harrison, editor of the definitive catalogue raisonné, and Richard Calvocoressi, director of  the Henry Moore Foundation. Calvocoressi writes in the catalogue: "Given that Moore and Bacon were both figurative artists with no religious faith, who nevertheless reimagined Christian themes – [including] the Crucifixion – for an increasingly secular, atrocity-conscious age, it is surprising that this is the first exhibition to compare their achievements."

Moore (1898-1986) is revered for his large bronzes, with reclining figures among his defining subjects. He was also an outstanding draughtsman, and his drawings of London Underground air raid shelters are among the most poignant images of the blitz.

He once said: "If you are going to train a sculptor to know about the human figure, make him do more drawing to begin with than modelling."

Bacon (1909–1992), who is regarded by many as the greatest British painter since Turner, captured the pain of human existence with a nightmarish brilliance. Today, his paintings are worth millions, but in 1946 it took the Contemporary Art Society six years to persuade a public collection to accept a Bacon painting as a gift.

In his published interviews, Bacon spoke about his interest in sculpture, regularly visiting the British Museum to look at the Parthenon marbles, which "are always very important to me". He regarded Michelangelo as "deeply important in my way of thinking about form". He said: "I think that perhaps the greatest images … have been in sculpture." When he enquired about lessons, he was already internationally recognised with exhibitions in London and Paris.

But, while Moore's training included the Royal College of Art, Bacon was self-taught as a painter and he recognised the need for guidance in the intricate art of sculpting from carving to bronze casting, Warner said.

Commenting on why Bacon wanted to sculpt, Warner spoke of the "old jealousy of the painter for the sculptor" – the painter's single view compared with the sculptor's infinite views: "You can walk round a sculpture."

In his catalogue essay, Martin Harrison observes that many of Bacon's paintings have "a dialogue with sculpture", from their "monumental presentation" to sculptures painted in the foregrounds of compositions like Reclining Man with Sculpture, 1960-61.

The exhibition, which opens in September, will show how, in his 1971 painting Lying Figure in a Mirror, Bacon achieved on canvas a three-dimensional sculptural monumentality similar to that in Moore's 1951 Reclining Figure.

Calvocoressi said that Bacon was "never very complimentary about Moore's work, dismissing his shelter drawings and making other pointed remarks", while Moore apparently referred to Bacon in telling The Observer that he had no desire "to produce shocks". That makes Bacon's request all the more extraordinary, he added.



                                         Francis Bacon's Lying Figure in a Mirror, 1971. 



Triptych: Three Studies After Francis Bacon by John Littell 



And attentive, luminous set of essays from the author of The Kindly Ones brings us closer to Bacon's 'pity for the flesh'




"Most of the time when one talks about painting, one says nothing very interesting. It's always very superficial." So claimed Francis Bacon, who said a lot on the subject of painting, his own and others', and frequently with startling precision. Here he is on Goya: "He has wedded his forms with air. It seems that his paintings are made with the matter of air." Bacon's aperçus are as hard to match in critical prose as are the paintings themselves, with their swerves and elisions, their smeary frustration of interpretations based glibly on "grim" subject matter. In Triptych, novelist Jonathan Littell – author of The Kindly Ones
 – attempts a hymn to the matter of Bacon's art: these three short, luminous essays are exercises in paying attention to paint itself.

Littell is a sedulous reader of surface and detail, taking as his guide to the works the principle that "being told in paint they need to be read in paint". His aim is not to extract from them what the artist might have meant to say, but what the paint tells us and how. (Bacon again: "The important thing is for a painter to paint and nothing else.") This involves Littell in controversies about certain visual tendencies: the fact for instance that Bacon didn't paint eyes until 1949, or his enigmatic use of umbrellas, which Littell conjectures may be drawn from early photographs of Hollywood film crews shading their cameras. There are localised enigmas too, such as the curious ghost of a screaming pope in the 1952 Study for Crouching Nude, or the mystery of an extra "wooden knob" on the central tripod in Bacon's 1944 Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion.

The trouble with this way of looking at Bacon is that Littell is too smart and attentive a writer to quite accept his own insistence on a purely gestural or textural approach to the paintings. Can we really separate, for example, a form such as the raptor profile of Bacon's lover George Dyer  – a form derived in part from a book about birds of prey, though such sources are another story – from the fact of their violent affair and Dyer's suicide? Of course not, and though Littell periodically comes back to this purely painterly attitude, it becomes less and less credible as the impetus behind these essays. He is in fact just as wedded to biographical anecdote and its almost metaphysical transmuting into paint: "Bacon was a man keenly conscious of the futility of all human endeavour, of the fragility of flesh, of the tenuous and contingent quality of the most intense emotions." This shuttling between aesthetics and anecdote, formal analysis and fundamental statements about the impulses at work in Bacon's work, is played out more or less uniformly across the three essays.

There is a model for writing about Bacon in such a way that paint and life and thought do not pull in different directions. It's Gilles Deleuze's 1981 book Francis Bacon: Logic of Sensation, of which Bacon said: "It's as if this guy were watching over my shoulder while I was painting." (Though when they met for dinner at a publisher's invitation, they both monologued airily and ignored each other.) Deleuze's canniest insight was to see that for Bacon, pigment, flesh and concept were all one, and all were moved by forces – the spasm, the scream, the fall, those circumscribing lines and arcs – that were the painter's real concern. And behind all this was "pity, an intense pity: pity for the flesh".

Deleuze's book is all over Littell's essays, avowedly and not. He's surely right to follow the philosopher in conceiving of paint as force and not form, to see Bacon's figures as examples of what it feels like to live in a body rather than what such a body looks like. But so profound is Littell's debt to Deleuze that he repeats some of his sorriest lapses and silliest assertions. Among the first is the claim that Bacon was violently antagonistic towards photography: a view that has been dramatically reversed since his death in 1992 and the discovery of the full extent of his reliance on photographic sources, well beyond the usual reference points in Muybridge and Eisenstein. Worse, though, is Littell's aping of Deleuze's tendency to divide artists and writers strictly into arid formalists and fearless wrestlers with fundamental forces, an attitude that gets its crudest outing in Triptych with an aside about the vacuous aestheticism of Nabokov as set against the life-affirming awkwardness of Faulkner. 

It is hard, faced with a body of work so vividly devoted to the suffering body, the human become bewildered animal, not to resort to romantic or vitalist cliché. And in Bacon's case the life and persona make it all the more tempting. You would be mad, in fact, not to see the madness in Bacon's art. But at its best Littell's book is an eloquent guide to another side or stratum of the paintings: their taking pigment itself as a sort of flesh. The artist was famously averse to abstract painting, which he considered solely decorative. As Littell argues, however, there are intriguing compositional and chromatic parallels with Mark Rothko, whom Bacon dismissed as merely "dreamy"; Bacon's elevation of the figure should not blind us to what Deleuze calls, looking at the vapour, dust and water in the 1970s paintings, "an abstraction which is purely Bacon's".




      'The suffering body' ... Francis Bacon's Study for Crouching Nude (1952).



Francis Bacon paint brushes expected to fetch £25,000 at auction



Eight brushes given by Irish-born painter to fellow artist Clive Barker in 1978 will be auctioned at Christie's in September



His paintings sell for millions at auction, but now a set of Francis Bacon's paintbrushes will go under the hammer and are expected to fetch around £25,000.

The eight brushes which the Irish-born painter gave to fellow artist Clive Barker in 1978 are in a paint-splattered butter bean tin encased in a perspex box.

They will be auctioned at Christie's in South Kensington, London, in September as part of its Out of the Ordinary sale.

Dublin-born Bacon, who died in 1992, is one of the most sought-after modern artists.

Last month, his 1966 triptych portrait of his friend, muse and lover Isabel Rawsthorne went for £11,282,500 while the first work the artist ever sold, his historic Head III, went for £10,442,500.

More than 150 lots will be auctioned off including a flying machine prop made for the 1985 Young Sherlock Holmes film which is expected to fetch £80,000, a Triceratops skull valued at £250,000 and one of the world's biggest caviar dishes.

Head of sale Charlotte Young said: "Out of the Ordinary is a tightly curated one-off sale offering a unique opportunity to acquire something a little different from Christie's South Kensington. Each lot has been selected as either visually striking or with an intriguing story to tell, and many have never before been seen at auction.

"I cannot wait to welcome the public to the extended exhibition in August and to witness their reaction to the juxtaposition of such diverse lots as a Triceratops skull with a Rolls Royce turbine fan. It is definitely a sale full of surprises that will excite the imagination."









Collectors snap up British art



Masterworks by British contemporary art giants Francis Bacon and David Hockney have sold as part of a £75 million bonanza





A 1966 triptych portrait of Bacon's friend, muse and lover Isabel Rawsthorne went for £11,282,500 while the first work the artist ever sold, his historic Head III, was battled for by six collectors, driving the price to £10,442,500.

It had been estimated to sell at somewhere between £5 million and £7 million at the Sotheby's auction in central London.

The triptych was purchased by an anonymous buyer and Head III went to an American private collection.

Fifty-four years ago, just across the road from Sotheby's at the Hanover Gallery in St George Street, the same work fetched £150 at Bacon's first commercial show.

Alex Branczik, head of Sotheby's London Contemporary Art Department said: "Tonight's sale was all about the quest for quality quality across categories from the modern masters to the new generation of artist

"We offered some great historic works of art and achieved some great prices for them, as buyers went down the connoisseurial route buying with intelligence and passion.

"Participation was truly global, making it a strong night for British art, photography, European abstract works and German artists."

Global art lovers with deep pockets ensured more than 90% of lots sold achieved prices at or above presale estimates and 21 lots sold at over £1 million.

David Hockney's colourful tribute to his home country, Double East Yorkshire, had an estimated value of £3 million, but sold for £3.4 million to a private collector in Asia.


                                                        Three studies of Isabel Rawsthorne by Francis Bacon sold for more than 11 millions pounds




Francis Bacon's Works Steak the Sale at Sotheby's in London




LONDON — Two paintings by Francis Bacon — one of the artist’s favourite female model and another of a man peering at the viewer from behind a pair of delicate glasses — were the stars of Sotheby’s sale of contemporary art here on Wednesday night.

It was the second night in a week of back-to-back auctions here, and the salesroom was overflowing with collectors and dealers. Most came to watch, but many bid as well. On offer were 68 works, including other examples by British artists like David Hockney and Damien Hirst, as well as an international array of blue-chip names — Lucio Fontana, Andreas Gursky and John Currin, to name a few.

But while the evening brought some solid prices, it followed a similar pattern to Christie’s sale on Tuesday night. Both lacked the frenzy (and the stellar selection of material) that made up the New York sales in May.
“We’re at the end of a marathon that started in New York, then moved to Hong Kong, Venice, Basel and now back to London,’’ said Harry Blain, a British dealer, ticking off the various events, including art fairs and auctions, that began in New York last month. “Still,’’ he added, “when something is rare people fight for it.’’

The auction totaled $116.8 million, in the middle of its $101.2 million to $144.9 million estimate. Fifteen works failed to sell. The auction was bigger than the Christie’s event, which totalled $108.4 million, within its $86.4 million to $112 million estimate. Of the 64 works at that auction, 13 failed to sell.

Both Bacon canvases were being sold by William Acquavella, the New York dealer, according to several dealers familiar with the works. The best of them — Three Studies of Isabel Rawsthorne — was a 1966 triptych of Rawsthorne, an artist, who was Bacon’s confidante and model. Two bidders fought for the painting, which was purchased by Alex Corcoran of the Lefevre Gallery in London for $17.3 million. It had been estimated to bring $15.5 million to $23.3 million. Mr. Acquavella had bought the triptych at Christie’s in London nine years ago for $4.2 million. The second Bacon — Head III — a 1949 canvas of a man’s head peering eerily out at the viewer, was bought by an unidentified telephone bidder for $16.1 million, well above its $10.8 million high estimate.


                                                                        Three Studies of Isabel Rawsthorne



Study after Velázquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X, 1953 by Francis Bacon


Des Moines Art Center, Iowa




By the early 1950s, Bacon, a sometime painter and decorator from Dublin who lacked any formal education in art, had made a dramatic shift of gear. No longer entirely in thrall to the feral vision of the Picasso of the early 1930s, a vision which had led him to paint various fantastical, creeping creatures with over-extended necks that might have been of some interest to William Blake, he began to consider the possibilities of portraiture of a particularly unorthodox kind.

Portraiture? Well, you could convincingly argue that Bacon did not in fact paint people. He painted images of people mediated through a great and often blurry mashing of other images. That word mashing is quite deliberate – these images were often trodden down on the floor of his own studio, by his own boots. (Yes, it was a hellish war zone of an environment, that place.) These images were snatched from anywhere and everywhere. A new book reminds us of how indebted he was to the iconography of National Socialism.

The painting illustrated on this page is based on an image of Velázquez's great portrait of Pope Innocent X, a subject that Bacon treated – or mistreated - again and again. But the scream was never in Velázquez. Velázquez did not deal in screaming popes. It would have been more than his job of most favoured court painter to Philip IV of Spain was worth. No, the scream is snatched from a famous moment in a film by Eisenstein. Many of Bacon's images are palimpsests. Embedded within any particular image, there is often another image out of which the later image has grown. To what extent then has Bacon rendered this near sacred image utterly unholy, in fact near blasphemous?

Bacon was an atheist lifelong. We could call such a vision negative, a denial, but that would be to shrink, needlessly, Bacon's achievements as an artist. The fact is that he found his atheism exhilarating. It helped to turn his life into a terrible, continuous hazarding. This, the here and now, was all that there was, and he lived it to the limit. His painting and his life as a sado-masochist, suffering the brutalities of his lovers, were all of a piece. Life was an experiment to be lived to its utmost extremities, of pain and rapture – or perhaps it was rapture mediated through pain.

In this painting we are witness to an avowed atheist squaring up to an heir to St Peter, founder of the Christian Church. The Pope has been utterly robbed of his imperious serenity. He now inhabits a terrible, streaked, shimmery void of unknowing. His papal throne, though still gilded, and boasting certain characteristic decorative features, is transmogrifying – it seems to be happening before our very eyes – into something else, a corral or cage-like shape. The strokes of paint, vertical and then fanning out, could be desperate clawings. The Pope is in the throes of becoming trapped inside that which once served to emphasise his hieratic eminence. The chair on which he sits, fiercely gripping its arms, almost seems to be in motion. It spreads, it weaves about, it encircles, it whip-lashes. It also lacks groundedness, solidity.

For all that, he grips it in order to re-find some stability. Even as we stare, we seem to be falling backwards into the painting's deep space. It is that scream which holds our eye. It is part a feral shriek, the wide-mouthed involuntary cry of the pure animal. It is also perhaps a breaking out, a denial of his role as leader of the church, which is given such definition by his gorgeous vestments. This scream is not Munch's over-familiar scream. Munch represented his scream as a form of infection, a spreading stain. It rippled outwards and outwards, giving shape, definition, form, to the entire dream landscape of which it was its centre. This scream is the Pope's darkness. It is all that he is. It is what he amounts to in the end, a small, black knot of humanness.

And yet this scream is not quite a denial. The entire enterprise of this painting seems to suggest otherwise. Its scale and pretensions are magnificent, monumental. To scream against the denial of the light is also a self-vaunting, heroic thing. It is all that man was ever born to.

About the artist: Francis Bacon (1909-1992)

Francis Bacon was born in Dublin of English parents. His early life was one of a drifter. His prodigious talents were not widely recognised until the beginning of his fifth decade. Aside from his achievements as a painter, he was known for the life of libidinous and alcoholic excess that he chose to live. In short, his sado-masochism fed his vision. His life as a no-holds-barred roisterer at Soho's Colony Club in the 1960s helped to give definition to that hedonistic decade.





                                                                        Francis Bacon's Study after Velázquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X



Francis Bacon paintings make £21m at London auction



BBC News, Thursday, 27 June 2013


Two works by British artist Francis Bacon, including the first painting he ever sold, have fetched more than £21m at a London auction.

Head III, which sold for £150 at Bacon's first solo show 54 years ago, was bought for £10.4m by an American private collection.

It had been estimated to sell for between £5m and £7m.

A 1966 triptych portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne Bacon's friend, muse and lover went for £11.3m.

Bacon and Rawsthorne became acquainted during preparations for their first solo shows at London's Hanover Gallery in 1949.

The work had been estimated to sell for somewhere in the region of £10m to £15m.

Alex Branczik, head of Sotheby's London Contemporary Art Department, said it was a "strong night" for British art, photography, European abstract works and German artists.

"We offered some great historic works of art and achieved some great prices for them, as buyers went down the connoisseurial route buying with intelligence and passion," he said.



Francis Bacon triptych among £66 million Sotheby's bonanza




Masterworks by British contemporary art giants Francis Bacon and David Hockney will go under the hammer today in a £66 million bonanza.

Two Bacon works a painting sold at his first commercial show in 1949 and a triptych portrait of his muse Isabel Rawsthorne will be auctioned at Sotheby's in central London.

Contemporary art enthusiasts with deep pockets will also have the chance to bid for Hockney's colourful tribute to his home country, Double East Yorkshire, which has an estimated value of £3 million.

Other artworks by the likes of op art painter and drawer Bridget Riley and German photographer Andreas Gursky are among the total of 69 expected to go on sale with a combined estimated value in excess of £66 million.

Bacon's Head III is expected to go for between £5 million to £7 million, while the triptych has been valued at £10 million to 15 million.

Alex Branczik, head of Sotheby's contemporary art department, said: "Contemporary collectors in search of prize works, should find a great deal to excite them in our evening sale.

"It is very much an auction of historic 'firsts'. We are offering the first work that Francis Bacon ever sold, from his first show at a commercial gallery, in which for the first time he depicts the human form.

"We have the first David Hockney landscape to appear at auction since the hugely successful 2012 Royal Academy show; a 1964 Bridget Riley shown in the first ever exhibition of 'Op Art' in New York in 1965 and Andreas Gursky's first Stock Exchange photograph of 1990 part of an unparalleled collection of his iconic series of trading floor studies."


Sotheby's Sale Underlines Recovery



Bacon Work Tops Auction of Contemporary Art, but Buyers Reject Two Basquiats and One Warhol




LONDON—Sotheby's contemporary art auction Wednesday evening proved that the art market is out of recession, but collectors are still wary of overpriced works by high-profile names that would have been easy sales in the heady days of the precrisis boom.

"Three Studies of Isabel Rawsthorne," a 1966 Francis Bacon triptych sold at Christie's for just $4.3 million in 2004, was the top lot at Sotheby's Wednesday, selling for $17.4 million to London dealer Alexander Corcoran, who rushed out of the room after beating an unidentified phone bidder.

A phone bidder handled by Sotheby's specialist Cheyenne Westphal, who typically works with Western European clients, beat another phone bidder and three room bidders to pay $16.1 million for "Head III," a Bacon work from 1949. Though it lacked the detail of a typical Bacon and was executed in a muted gray tone—typically unpopular with buyers—it is historically significant, having been sold for £150 ($231) in Bacon's first commercial show in 1949.

Buyers proved picky about other household names, rejecting two paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat and a later-period silk-screen by Andy Warhol that stalled at $1.7 million.

Wednesday's auction totalled $117 million, safely within the presale estimate of $101 million to $145 million.




          A Francis Bacon triptych, Three Studies of Isabel Rawsthorne went for $17.4 million to London dealer Alexander Corcoran at Sotheby's Wednesday





   Contemporary Art Evening Auction


    London| 26 June 2013 | L13022 | Lot 11



    1909 1992


    HEAD III  

    signed, titled and dated 1966 on the reverse of the left canvas
    oil on board
 each: 81 by 66 cm.; 32 by 26 in.

    Executed 1949



                                                                  Head III 1949 Francis Bacon



Estimate: 5,000,000 to 7,000,000 GBP

LOT SOLD. 10,442,500 GBP



Hanover Gallery, London
Wright S. Ludington, California
Galerie Beyler, Basel
Sir Edward & Lady Hulton, London (acquired from the above in 1976)
Private Collection, Europe
Thomas Gibson Fine Art, London
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1997




London, Hanover Gallery, Francis Bacon Paintings. Robert Ironiside Drawings, 1949, no. 7
California, Palm Beach, Society of Four Arts, Contemporary British Painting, 1956
Toronto, The Art Gallery of Ontario, Francis Bacon, 1979
London, Tate Gallery, Francis Bacon, 1985, p. 42, no. 8, illustrated in colour
Lugano, Museo d'Arte Moderna della Città di Lugano Villa Malpensata, Francis Bacon, 1993, p. 29, illustrated in colour, and p. 138, no. 9, illustrated
Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou; Munich, Haus der Kunst, Francis Bacon, 1996 -97, p. 291, illustrated 
Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art; Hamburg, Hamburg Kunsthalle, Francis Bacon: Portraits and Head
2005-06, no. 3, illustrated in colour
Norwich, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts; Wisconsin, Milwaukee Art Museum; Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Francis Bacon: Paintings from the 1950s, 2006-07, no. 5, illustrated in colour



Penguin New Writing, London 1949, no. 38, p. 64
Horizon, no. XX, December 1949
January 1950, pp. 418-19
World Review, New Series, no. 23, January 1951, p. 64
Ronald Alley, 
Francis Bacon, London 1964, no. 22, illustrated
Hugh M. Davies, 
Francis Bacon, New York 1986, p. 19, no. 13, illustrated
Michel Leiris, 
Francis Bacon, Paris 1987, no. 8, illustrated in colour
Tony Shafrazi Gallery, Ed., 
Francis Bacon, New York 1998, p. 18, illustrated in colour
Martin Harrison, Ed.,
 Francis Bacon: New Studies, Göttingen 2009, p. 177, no. 119, illustrated in colour




Catalogue Note

1949 was a seminal year for Francis Bacon: it marked the full inauguration of an artistic vision that drew back the veil on the human condition with a rawness and violence never before witnessed. This was the year of Bacon’s very first one-man exhibition in which the extraordinary and historically important group of six Heads powerfully proclaimed his critical arrival. Designated as third in this crucial series, Head III was conceived as part of the most ferocious corpus of Bacon’s early career; a sequence of paint encrusted, starkly monochromatic pictures that navigates an evolution from the innate animalism of Heads I and II (housed in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and Ulster Museum, Belfast respectively) to culminate in Head VI (Southbank Centre, London) as the very first in Bacon’s groundbreaking and iconoclastic pantheon of screaming Popes. Viewed as part of a metamorphic sequence, Head III is an extraordinary vision of abject and ‘all too human’ man arrested at an evolutionary stage between base animal instinct and howling patriarch. In context of this seminal revelatory moment, Head III is itself of great precedential significance. Preempting the gaping mouthed shriek of Head VI, this painting denotes the first explicit occasion in which the obsessively quoted broken glasses, or pince-nez, fully appear; Bacon famously lifted both glasses and scream from Eisenstein’s 1925 masterpiece of silent cinema, Battleship Potemkin. This work also significantly embodies the first irrefutable human likeness of Bacon’s professional career. Though not a portrait, the painting bears a resemblance to Bacon’s first significant benefactor and long-term companion, Eric Hall, and thus anticipates the way in which Bacon would later look to his social circle for principal inspiration. Having been exhibited in some of the most important museum shows of Bacon’s career, including the seminal 1985 Tate retrospective held during Bacon’s lifetime, alongside countless others at the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh; Pompidou Centre, Paris; Hamburg Kunsthalle; Haus der Kunst, Munich to name but a few, the historical importance and museum pedigree of Head III is utterly beyond reproach. Further beyond doubt is the power and technical brilliance of this early work. Extensively commented upon in contemporary reviews and admired in influential critiques of the Hanover exhibition, Head III was the first painting sold by the Hanover Gallery in advance of the private view in November 1949. The notable Californian collector Wright S. Ludington (1900-1992), who shared a mutual friend with Bacon in Graham Sutherland and is notable today for his crucial involvement in the foundation of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, was the first to own this painting: he bought it on 28 October 1949 for £150. Possessing rich provenance, a profound history and a deeply evocative subject, Head III certainly holds a place of utmost importanc    thin the arc of Bacon scholarship.

Following the intermittent early success of the first two masterworks, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion and Painting 1946, Bacon concentrated his depiction of humanity on visceral animalistic drives: “no sides of meat, no bandages, no umbrellas or other props; simply a glimpse of mankind reduced to basic instinct, the mouth gibbering in fear or bared in attack, with the rest of the senses (and often, literally the rest of the head) obliterated” (Michael Peppiatt, Anatomy of an Enigma, London 2008, p. 153). The technical brilliance of Bacon’s ability to elucidate the instantaneous flicker of film noir or the granular blur of newsprint in the Grand Manner of oil on canvas mark these works as extraordinary feats of artistic creation. In this regard, Head III powerfully delivers great technical resolve, forcefully encapsulating Bacon’s professed desire from this early moment: “to paint like Velázquez with the texture of hippopotamus skin” (the artist cited in: ‘Survivors’, Time, 21 November 1949, p. 44). Unlike any works previously and in contrast to the extant works in the series, Head III delivers an extraordinarily unsettling depiction of man: out of a thickly painted pock-marked complexion a haunting and disarmingly human stare pierces the downwards drag of a diaphanous curtain. Dimly lit and dissolving into darkness, this turning bald-headed figure meets our gaze through shattered glasses the notorious Baconian motif obsessively quoted from the screaming nurse of the Odessa steps sequence in Eisenstein’s Potemkin. Though dispossessed of the nurse’s ensuing scream that would come to define Bacon’s iconic corpus of Popes after Velazquez’s 1650 Pope Innocent X, Head III depicts a terrible moment of silence in which this anonymous man’s disturbing countenance and penetrating glare projects directly out of the black abyss to meet with our own. Not only does Head III possess the first fully formed pair of eyes in Bacon’s work since the 1930s, it also represents the first recognisably human facial study in Bacon’s mature expression. At once evoking the frail physicality of a cleric or hunchbacked civil servant, Head III foreshadows the nameless businessmen of the landmark Man in Blue paintings whilst inaugurating the defining subject of Bacon’s career