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.
Shipping the most expensive artwork
ever sold at auction from New York to the Portland Art Museum requires a
The museum is on highest alert for
the next three months as it exhibits Francis Bacon's recording-breaking
Studies of Lucian Freud
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"
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
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
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,"
Oregon - Dec. 20, 2013 - Francis Bacon's Three Studies of Lucian
Freud, which sold in November for a record $142.4 million arrived in
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
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.
the work is an important one in Bacon’s career, and is an interesting
painting to be sure,
only reason the Portland Art Museum would scramble to arrange its
exhibition is because it has also become notorious.
its status changed when it became the world’s supposedly “most expensive
is now famous for being expensive, rather like some people are famous
for being famous. It is an identity that will, for many visitors,
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.
don’t just house art, they place art on display in such a way that the
viewer is compelled to ask a fundamental question:
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
By DAVID NG
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.
ART: Can you guess
the high price?
The Portland Art
Museum announced this week that the piece — which depicts three
views of artist Lucian Freud — will remain on view through March
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.”
Highest-earning art executives
The foundation is
supporting the museum with a three-year programming grant worth
a total of $180,000.
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
New York on Nov. 12
Friends, soulmates, rivals: the double life
of Francis Bacon and Lucian
They were the 20th century's Turner
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.
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,
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 futur
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
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 hi
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 Fre
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
In the end, Freud
and Bacon fell out, a dispute that was probably inevitable given two
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 photo
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 o
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
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
Freud and Bacon photographed by Harry Diamond
Brian Sewell liked
Bacon for breakfast
THE EVENING STANDARD
11 DECEMBER 2013
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
“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
SEMIR ZEKI | TOMOHIRO
ISHIZU | HYPOTHESIS
AND THEORY ARTICLE
FRONTIERS IN HUMAN NEUROSCIENCE
| 10 DECEMBER 2013
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.
A VISUAL SHOCK
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.
BACON'S OVERALL 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”
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 AND BODIES
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.
THE PRIVILEGED STATUS OF FACES AND BODIES IN VISUAL
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).
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
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
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
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 FACIAL IMPERCEPTION
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.
FORM REPRESENTATION IN THE BRAIN
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
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.
INHERITED TEMPLATES FOR FACIAL AND BODY
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,
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).
THE HOLISTIC REPRESENTATION OF FACE AND
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
a somewhat rare exception and Figure
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.
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
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
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
THE EFFECT OF DISTORTIONS OF FACE AND
BODY ON CORTICAL ACTIVITY
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
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)
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
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.
A FAST ROUTE FOR THE RECOGNITION OF
FACIAL AND BODY STIMULI
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).
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.
UNCONSCIOUS EMOTIONAL IMPACT OF
DISFIGURED BODIES AND FACES
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
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
CONSEQUENCES OF VIOLATING THE ESSENTIAL
CONFIGURATION OF FACES
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).
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,
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.
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:
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
– cruel and vain while also generous and blithe
| IRISH INDEPENDENT
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
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
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
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,
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.
Francis Bacon was somewhat ascetic in his home and work life
Francis Bacon: exploring the horrors of
Did the ‘power, violence and tragedy’
embodied in Nazi propaganda inspire Bacon’s art?
ADRIAN LEWIS | ART & ARTISTS | CASSONE | DECEMBER 2013
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
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.
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
recalls an afternoon with Francis Bacon
Andrew Barrow looks back on a lively
afternoon with Francis Bacon in 1975
BY ANDREW BARROW | THE
DAILY TELEGRAPH | 29
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
Francis Bacon, left, talks to Andrew Barrow at the Chelsea Arts Club, in
London in 1975
FRANCIS BACON AND MARK ROTHKO
— BROTHERS IN ARMS
seen how the Surrealists equated the desire to express something new
need to shock, and it was to form the core of his own artistic belief”
Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma
By REBECCA HINDE
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
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.
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
“I'm interested only in expressing basic human emotions – tragedy,
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
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
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
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
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
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
Screaming nurse from Eisenstein’s film Battleship Potemkin — Bacon
became obsessed with this image
I Was a Portrait by Francis Bacon
NEW YORK TIMES
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:
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
“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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
FAQ: Why Does Francis Bacon's Art Auction Matter?
BY ERIC SPITZNAGEL| BLOOMBERG
BUSINESSWEEK | FRIDAY, 15
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
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
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
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
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
So who bought it?
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Bacon, whose £90 million painting broke auction records this week, was a
man of obsessive extremes
BY MELVYN BRAGG
DAILY TELEGRAPH | FRIDAY,
15 NOVEMBER, 2013
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
'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
ADAM SHERWIN | THE
INDEPENDENT | THURSDAY,
14 NOVEMBER, 2013
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
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
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
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
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).
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
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
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
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
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
GUARDIAN | WEDNESDAY,
13 NOVEMBER, 2013
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
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
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
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
JOHN WALSH | VOICES | THE
INDEPENDENT | THURSDAY
14 NOVEMBER 2013
As Francis Bacon's Three
Studies of Lucian Freud
bought at auction in New York for $142.4m (89.6)
most expensive artwork ever auctioned
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
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
SHOW BIZ & TV | THE
DAILY EXPRESS | WEDNESDAY
NOVEMBER 13 2013
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
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
BY MARK HUDSON | ART
SALES | NEWS | THE
DAILY TELEGRAPH | 13
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
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.
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.
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.
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
triptych sells for $142.4m (£89.6m) at Christie's in New York, breaking
record set by Edvard Munch's 'The Scream'
TIM WALKER | THE
INDEPENDENT | WEDNESDAY
13 NOVEMBER 2013
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
According to the New
the piece was purchased by
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
depicts Freud seated on a wooden chair against an orange background,
thus overtakes the previous record set by Edv
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
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
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
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
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
BY JON SWAINE | NEW
YORK | THE
DAILY TELEGRAPH | 13
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
By REUTERS | THE
DAILY MAIL | WEDNESDAY
13 NOVEMBER 2013
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
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
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.
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.
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
'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.
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
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
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
painting Three Studies of Lucian Freud has become the most
expensive work of art ever sold at auction, soaring to US$142.4m at
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
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,
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.
Studies of Lucian Freud (1969)
Bacon's Freud work sold for £90m
NEWS | BELFAST
TELEGRAPH | WEDNESDAY
13 NOVEMBER 2013
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.
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
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
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.
Bacon Painting Breaks Auction Record, Sells for $142 million
BY JESSE DAVID FOX | ART
AUCTIONS | VULTURE |
NOVEMBER 13, 2013
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
(We should note that this record is only for auction, as a version of
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?
JONATHAN JONES | THE
GUARDIAN | TUESDAY
12 NOVEMBER 2013
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
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
By CAROL VOGEL |
ART & DESIGN | THE NEW YORK TIMES | TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2013
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
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
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
“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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
MARTIN BAILEY |
THE ART NEWSPAPER | FRIDAY 1 NOVEMBER 2013
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
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
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”.
Bacon painting set to sell for $100 million in New York
Dublin-born painter now one of the most expensive
artists in history
MICHAEL PARSONS | CULTURE
THE IRISH TIMES | THURSDAY OCTOBER 31 2013
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.
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
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
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
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.
POST-WAR AND CONTEMPORARY EVENING SALE
New York, Rockefeller
12 November 2013 | SALE 2791| Lot 32
1992) THREE STUDIES OF LUCIAN FREUD
Estimate on request
Russell Francis Bacon, London, 1971, pp. 144-145 and 201, no. 72
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
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
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)
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
A CONVERSATION BETWEEN
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
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
Freud, exh. 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).
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).
BACON AND FREUD: A FRIENDSHIP IN
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,
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
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.
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.
THE TRIPTYCH: THREE VISIONS OF
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,
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
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
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.
IMAGES RECORDED IN PAINT
JOHN DEAKIN'S PHOTOGRAPHS
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
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
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).
THE FIGURATIVE SUBLIME
In Three Studies of
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
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,
exh.cat., 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
SPACE AND THE REVELATION OF THE HUMAN
Bacon's use of the
space frame with its clean internal architecture in Three Studies of
to lock the figure of Freud to a certain time and space
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
JAMES HALL | THE TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT |
FRIDAY 25 OCTOBER 2013