Francis Bacon Archive



                                         1941 — 2000






                 Twenty-Seven In Court   





Before Sir Gervais Rentoul at West London Police Court on Friday, Albert Hyde (32), builder, 200 Westbourne Park-road; Walter Travis Scott (51), retired, Chesterfield Court, Curzon-street; Vivian Robertson (44), clerk, 44 Nicholas-road, Mile End; Frederick John Hyde (60), chauffeur, 200 Westbourne Park-road; and Edward Bishop, builder, 200 Westbourne Park-road, were charged with keeping a common gaming house at 5 Prince of Wales-terrace, Kensington, on Thursday night.

Twenty-two were charged with being found on the premises alleged to be used as a common gaming house.

They included Eric Walter Hall (50), independent, Conservative Club, St. James's Street, S.W.1; Mrs. Grace Marjorie Parson Smith (58), 47 Crompton Court, South Kensington; Marjorie Elsie Cooper (46), widow, 17 Park Mansions, Knightsbridge; and Francis Bacon (31), artist, 1 Glebe-place, Chelsea. They were bound over not to frequent gaming houses for 12 months.

No evidence was offered at this stage. Albert Hyde, Scott, Robertson, Fredrick Hyde, and Bishop were remanded on bail until October 31.






                          Police Visit to Flat   





Before Mr. Bennett at West London Police Court on Tuesday, Mabel Graham (62), married, 189 Latymer Court, Hammersmith-road; Ena Eunice Marcus (39), married, 16D Elvaston-place, South Kensington; and Sarah Ann Johns (590, daily maid, 46 Norland Gardens, Noting Hill, were charged with being concerned in the organisation of an unlawful gaming party.

Ethel Hannah Lindsay (75), independent, 12A North End-crescent, West Kensington; Eric Hall (51), independent, Conservative Club, St. James's; Muriel Howell Marguerite Moxon (50), independent, Rupert Place, Henley-on-Thames; Winifred Constance Beryl Bowen (52), independent, Copers Cope-road, Beckenham; Francis Bacon (32), artist, I Glebe-place, Chelsea; Frances Mary O'Kell (70), independent, Vanderbilt Hotel, South Kensington; Ethel Almaz Stout (70), independent, Manor House, Exmouth; Elizabeth Ellen Calcutt (69), independent, 53 Gloucester-road, South Kensington; and Ida Marion Cunninghame (58), independent, 1 Barkston-gardens, Earls Court; were charged with being present at an unlawful gaming party.


‘‘No Playing for Money’’

Chief-inspector Bye said that at 4.50 p.m. on Monday he went with other police officers to 189 Latymer Court. They were admitted by Mrs. Johns, the maid. In a large room on the left of the hall the 11 other defendants were seated round an oblong table, which was covered with a green baize cloth. A roulette wheel was in the centre of the table, on which there were a large number of counters. Mrs. Graham and Mrs. Marcus were acting as groupiers. Mrs. Graham said, “It is quite alright, we are not playing for money. There is a prize on the sideboard,” referring to a  bottle of wine.

Defendants were remanded on bail until May 19.






                   ‘‘Very Humble Game In a Flat’’





Before Mr. Bennett at West London Police Court on Tuesday, Mabel Graham (62), married, 189 Latymer Court, Hammersmith-road, Ena Eunice Marcus (39), married, 16 D Elvaston-place, South Kensington; and Sarah Ann Johns (59), daily maid, 46 Norland-gardens, Notting Hill, were charged on remand with being concerned in the organization of an unlawful gaming party.

Ethel Hannah Lindsay (75), independent, 12A North End-crescent, West Kensington; Eric Hall (51), independent, Conservative Club, St. James's; Muriel Howell Marguerite Moxon (50), independent, Rupert Place, Henley-on-Thames; Winifred Constance Beryl Bowen (52), independent, Copers Cope-road, Beckenham; Francis Bacon (38), artist, I Glebe Place, Chelsea; Frances Mary O'Kell (70), independent, Vanderbilt Hotel, South Kensington; Ethel Almaz Stout (70), independent, Manor House, Exmouth; Elizabeth Ellen Calcutt (69), independent, 53 Gloucester-road, South Kensington; and Ida Marion Cunninghame (58), independent, 1 Barkston-gardens, Earls Court; were charged on remand with being present at an unlawful gaming party.

‘‘Bottle of Wine Prize on Sideboard’’

Mr. A. Sanders, who prosecuted, said that when Chief-inspector Bye and other officers entered Mrs. Graham's flat on the afternoon of May 4 they found persons seated round a table covered with a green baize cloth in the centre of which was a roulette wheel. On the table were a large number of counters and Mrs. Graham and Mrs. Marcus were acting as croupiers. Mrs. Graham said, “We are not playing for money. There is the prize on the sideboard, indicating a bottle of French wine. “It is difficult to believe that these people, all of mature age, sat round a table all the afternoon watching a wheel going round when the prize was only a bottle of wine, said Mr. Sanders. He added that there was no evidence that Johns had anything to do with the actual game. He was there merely in the capacity of a domestic servant.

The magistrate said that in these circumstances Johns would be discharged.

‘‘Of Good Reputation and Social Standing’’

Mr. J. M. Lickfold, defending, said this was a small tea party by Mrs. Graham for her friends. “They were playing a very humble game of threepenny roulette,he said. “All the defendants are of good reputation and social standing. It is a little startling to now that the police can walk into a private party under this new order and take people off to the police station. Defendants did not know they were committing an offence.

The magistrate said he accepted the story that a game for small stakes only was being played, but it was forbidden. He find Mrs. Graham £25 and £10.10s. costs and Mrs. Marcus was find £20 and £10.10s. costs. All the other defendants were find £5 each.




Round the London Art Galleries





There are half-a-dozen very interesting exhibitions this month, from the Belgian Baron, the Rousseau of Big Business, served up by the London Gallery, Brook Street, all the way back to Ethel Walker at the Lefevre Gallery, who has been called the G.O.W. of English Impressionism. She was a pillar of the New English in its palmy days and when Sickert and Speer both both died in 1942, Now I am the only painter left in England!she exclaimed, aghast at her solitary eminence. Or that is the story. It is easy to understand what an outstanding Impressionist must have felt confronted with that double demise. Miss Walker might have felt a little less like the last of her tribe, or of a great race, had she known that in Euston Road a group of painters had sworn that Impressionism should not die. French Impressionists (of the last phase) are to be seen at the same GalleryBonnards Dans le Jardin is an oasis of peaceful power and beautyor so it seems as I look back, for immediately afterwards I went to Francis Bacons exhibition at the Hanover Gallery whose world is as far as it is possible to get from the robust serenity of French painting of the Impressionist school.

This Hanover Gallery show, however, is of exceptional importance. Of the younger painters none actually paints so beautifully as Francis Bacon. I have seen painting of his that reminded me of Velasquez and like that master he is fond of blacks. Liquid whitish accents are delicately dropped upon the sable ground, like blobs of mucusor else there is the cold white glitter of an eyeball, or of an eye distended with despairing insult behind a shouting mouth, distended also to hurl insults. Otherwise it is a baleful regard from the mask of a decaying clubman or business executiveso decayed that usually part of the head is rotting away into space. But black is his pictorial element.




           Study for Nude (1949), by Francis Bacon, from the exhibition at the Hanover Gallery






Paintings, Pleasant and Unpleasant





From Our London Art Critic | The Scotsman November 26, 1949   


If you can imagine a tardily evolved creature which had slithered out from below a large stone that had been in a noisome cellar for a century or two, you will be able to get a faint idea of the sort of thing Francis Bacon shows in the exhibition of his works at the Hanover Gallery.

As the various works are identified  “Study I: 1945, “Study II: 1945,” and so on, only the most meticulous note-taking could make a description possible; and as the bulk of the heads and figures are like nothing ever imagined  on sea or land, a description would hardly be of much use in any case.

A snake with a head which had melted  in the making, a huge figure half-man, half-gorilla making its exist through curtains, or just an ordinary portrait with the top part of the head disappearing in a mist - these are simply shots. This curious disintegration  is said to be an interpretation of the age;  a sort of prophetic picture of something connected with the atom. The artist, however, is not the one who makes these strange claims.  He lets his works speak for themselves.


Make no mistake about it, however, Francis Bacon is an artist. His amazing imagination  has a vague coherence: his loathsome figures seem possible. He handles paint most convincingly. Though the paintings are horrible, they have a bigness about them that suggests sincerity.

When he paints the part of a cardinals robe with the head dissolving into a gloom that might be a theatre box, there is something ghastly about it: this might happen. There is nothing cubist or abstract about these dreadful creations: it might be a real relief if there were. It just looks as if someone carrying the whole of evolution on a tray had tripped and smashed up the show.




Survivors Round



 TIME NOVEMBER 21, 1949   


One of England's most original painters is a baby-faced 39-year-old named Francis Bacon, and one of the most original things about him is that he has destroyed some 700 canvases to date. "The trouble with Francis," a London friend of Bacon's explained last week, "is that if you fail to go into raptures over one of his finished works, he decides it's no good and tears it up. If you become enthusiastic he begins to worry, decides he doesn't trust your judgment anyway, and that your enthusiasm proves it's a bad picture. Into the dustbin it goes, too."

Bacon's first exhibition, which opened in a London gallery last week, represented a minor triumph for his tight, bright little circle of admirers. By dint of carefully mingled rapture and doubt, they had persuaded him to save twelve canvases for the show. Whether his twelve survivors represented a triumph for Bacon was another question. The paintings did not look like the work of a perfectionist. Done in an elaborately sketchy technique, they were remarkable chiefly for horror. Among them were studies of lumpish, long-necked figures squatting on tabletops, a sinister) male nude disappearing through a curtain, and half a man firing half a machine gun.

Horrible or not, said Bacon, his pictures were not supposed to mean a thing. "They are just an attempt to make a certain type of feeling visual . . . Painting is the pattern of one's own nervous system being projected on canvas."

Like most modern artists, Bacon is more concerned with technique than subject matter; textures trouble him particularly. "One of the problems," he mused last week, "is to paint like Velasquez but with the texture of a hippopotamus skin." That problem alone, as even a fool could plainly see, might require the destruction of another 700 canvases.








Mr. Francis Bacon, whose paintings are shown at the Hanover Gallery, 32A, St. George Street, is a very capable artist; there is some breadth in his drawing and his paint is laid on in a workmanlike way. But the subjects of his pictures are so extraordinary, and, indeed, so extremely repellent, that it is scarcely possible to consider anything else. His themes are as vivid and as meaningless as a nightmare and they leave in the mind precisely the same long-continued feeling of disquiet as a thoroughly bad dream.

Perhaps the nastiest of his ideas is what seems to be some sort of visceral specimen, a pale and flabby bag of flesh terminating in a tube in the cross-section of which there is a mouth with highly realistic teeth in it. But much more frightening are his realistic figures behind half-transparent curtains - there are several showing a huge and brutal man with his mouth wide open as if shouting at the top of his voice - for these leave the most vivid impression that there is some act of frightful violence and cruelty being committed half out of sight. All this could, no doubt, be dismissed as the nonsense that it sounds like if Mr. Bacon had not used considerable power of imagination and pictorial skill, thereby producing something which it is impossible not to think worse than nonsense, as the "Head: II," which appears to be a mutilated corpse, most certainly is.

At the same gallery Mr. Robin Ironside shows a number of decorations in the rococo style, with sophisticated modern additions, very precisely and neatly executed and with a great profusion of detail.












WHEN I was still in standard IV at an elementary school I read a single instalment of a serial story in another boy’s magazine, and although I recall only the last two or three sentences they have affected my whole life. A frightened man was crawling on his hands and knees along a dark tunnel; suddenly, in front of him, something gave off a soft, greenish glow. He stretched out his hand either to touch it or to ward it off, and the episode ended in these words: ‘Now it glowed on the tips of his fingers. It was luminous paint !’ I had never heard of such a dung: it introduced me to an inexplicable order of tangibility, and it gave me the first of my ‘giddy turns’, for the dark tunnel, the man’s fear and the exclamation mark combined with my ignorance to transform luminous paint into a kind of live but phantasmal tissue.

Several years ago, when I saw the name of a magazine, La Révolution Surréaliste, light up in a dark room and appear to print itself on the air, I was pleased but not shaken; it was the merest graph of what I understood by luminous paint. My ‘real thing’ gave off energies not to be found in the commercial product that goes by the same name.

At widely separated intervals, I have been confronted by two pictures whose matière had exactly the same vertiginous effect upon me as the uncanny aeruginous substance that I found in the tunnel. One of them was Cézanne’s   ‘Boy in a Red Waistcoat’, in a Swiss collection; the other was a picture of cypresses, brought over from Holland for the big Van Gogh show, before which I found myself preparing to slip between the grooves of its wonderful black-green paint, in the way that one teeters before entering a revolving door. The images meant nothing to me; the cypresses were commonplace, and even the boy in the red waistcoat seemed an inert object on which the paint had settled. But throughout the present year I have seen seven or eight new paintings by Francis Bacon in which the image has a call upon the entire oblong of paint, and the paint is the sacred substance of the tunnel.

I may yet have to admit that the factors in my make-up which predispose me to an uncritical acceptance of Bacon’s pictures of men and curtains are too strong to allow validity to any attempt on my part to make an objective assessment of their place in contemporary painting. In front of these pictures, which are the colour of wet, black snakes lightly powdered with dust, which use small white arrows and safety pins as exclamation marks, and which manifest so eerie a collusion between man and curtain that the paint seems the issue of their interpenetration, I have a desire to feel the rich grey matière on my hands, but. above all I feel at home in their atmosphere, I feel that ‘nothing is missing’. All the same, the purpose of this note is to show that Bacon’s pictures not only exist in the same sphere of feeling as Picasso’s analytical cubism and Duchamp’s futurism, but rectify an anomaly in their language.

The direction and accentuation of his temperament, which leads him to propound an hallucinatory condition as a primary attribute of man, recalls Dostoevsky and Kafka; but in terms of visual association the parallels that propose themselves come from the silent cinema. The obsolete technique of acting in silent films — its system of explanatory gestures and facial movements-now seems like the badly concealed agitation of the actors themselves, breaking through the parts they play: in retrospect, the wooden gestures and grimaces of Edna Purviance, and the blood, the crumpled pince-nez and the soundless scream of the woman shot through the eye in Eisenstein’s ‘Odessa Steps’ sequence seem involuntary disclosures of the soul’s maladies. In the period when American films were making their first noises, the silent technique was consciously exploited and perfected in the Buñuel-Dali film, Un Chien Andulou, to afford, in the words of Palinurus, who attended its premi6re in 1929, a ‘glimpse of the fires of despair and frenzy which were smouldering beneath the complacent post-war world’. I believe that Un Chien Andulolr has greater visual force and lucidity than anydung achieved in the art of painting between the two wars, and that only the recent paintings of Francis Bacon have discovered a comparable means of disclosing the human condition, or are capable of producing-to quote Pahurus again -the same ‘tremendous feeing of excitement and liberation’.

Every activity in these paintings of men going in and out of curtains, or imprisoned in transparent boxes, has an air of extreme hazard, and this powerful overtone obscures the modernity of Bacon’s formal resources. He is probably the only important painter of our time who is exclusively preoccupied with man, and his innate tendency to comment upon and expose the state of the human soul-which relates him to Goya, Daumier and ToulouseLautrec-is the incalculable factor in his readjustment of cubist seeing.

He is as much concerned with the ambiguity of the boundaries of figures in space as Picasso in his analytical cubist pictures, and as much concerned with the further ambiguity of the boundaries of figures when in motion as Duchamp in ‘Nu descendant un escalier’ and ‘Le Roi et la Reine travers6s par de Nus vites’. He shares their sense of fluctuating depth and undelimited form, but not their mode of presentation.

Picasso and Duchamp expressed this conception of reality in elaborate linear structures; Bacon expresses it, with more congruity, in painterly terms, for it is essentially an augmentation of baroque notions about appearance. Picasso and Duchamp imposed upon themselves the task of exploring the indefinite and the immediate with a hear system that could only resort to fragmentation. This is not a criticism. Their pictures made between 1910 and 1912 are far and away the most beautiful and moving achievements of twentieth-century painting, but their facets and multiple planes form a complex, difficult, and, for most people, excessively mandarin language. They must have been aware of some anomaly in their approach, for both artists abandoned their systems; yet, strictly speaking, there have been no new developments in painting since that time; the concept has been weakened and misunderstood, it has not been superseded.

At one moment, Tchelitchew seemed on the point of realizing that a painterly system was the logical next step. His ‘Nude in Space’, painted in 1926, brilliantly fuses two views of a figure with uneven thicknesses of paint, and it is probable that Bacon has taken a hint from this quarter. Then again, in 1939, Matta clearly felt that the frustrations of modernism were located in the linear method. But he achieved only a painterly fragmentation and somehow failed to perceive that Picasso and Duchamp were making statements about exterior reality. Mabille would have us believe that Matta is a realist, but a painter can only become a realist through a study of forms in space, and Matta’s romantic evocations of a scientifically discovered world invisible to the naked eye are in fact phantasies.

Bacon never makes a drawing. He starts a picture with a loaded one-inch brush of the kind that ironmongers stock, and almost the entire work is painted with such brushes. In these broad brushstrokes, modernism has found its skin: the ‘works’ no longer show.’

It isn’t, of course, a simple matter of doing cubism over again, with thick brushes instead of thin ones. In releasing modern painting from the machinery of hear construction, Bacon makes a typically baroque statement: he gives reality to an illusion, and his pictures do not invite the spectator to investigate the means.

The hole of a screaming mouth is sometimes the point of deepest recession in these pictures; or a little white arrow floats in front of the canvas and the rest of the picture starts at a depth which the eye judges to be behind the canvas; the canvas is thus rendered non-existent. But nothing can enter Bacon’s pictures and remain abstract, and a small thing-an arrow or a safety pins anything but unassuming in a world of large, undetailed forms. It is like a fly in a prison cell. It assumes the proportions of a Visitor, or a Familiar, or even a Warder. The fact that nothing wd be discovered about it increases its reality.

A man turns his head and stares out of a picture through pince-nez; I am more conscious of the stare than of the eyes; the play of intervals between the eyes, the rims of the glasses and the shadows of the rims is further information about the stare-the man is ‘holding something back’; I do not dunk about spatial concepts when examining the relationship between head and curtain-I am too subdued by the fact that the curtain is sucking away the substance of the head; the subtle pinkish beige paint that dabbles and creates the face is an exquisite foil to the greys, but how did this man come to get a skin of such a disquieting texture? I cannot divorce the facture from what it forms. I am prevented from going through my usual routine of art appreciation. Modern painting has suddenly been humanized.

Bacon is not making it any easier to paint pictures. His known works are few in number because he is compelled to destroy many canvases. When he works on a canvas, intellect, feeling, automatism and chance, in proportions which he will never be able to calculate in advance, sometimes come to an agreement. During the last twelve months these agreements have been more frequent; therein lies a hope for painting.




An Unhappy Genius






FRANCIS'S BACON'S present exhibition at the Hanover Gallery, like his last, makes me uneasy. It contains only three pictures that have not been seen in London before, but once seen they are neither easy to forget nor comforting to remember.

The usual pale and suggestively slimy pink forms emerge like unhappy ghosts from a surface of impenetrable, primeval grey. As these protoplasmic images take shape in the colourless void they find themselves entangled in a web constructed apparently of the shining edges of an invisible glass tank. Chaos is giving birth inelegantly to something vaguely powerful and monumental, but also to something quite unusually unpleasant. In fact, Mr. Bacon contrives to be both unforgettable and repellent at the same time.

Let no man say this is an easy thing to have done. It requires geniusan unhappy, desperate kind of geniusand a real understanding of the Grand Manner. I am not surprised to hear that Titian and Velasquez are the artists Mr. Bacon admires most, but I suspect that both of them would be a little surprised at the results of their disciple's admiration.

Ii is a relief to turn in the upper half of the Gallery to a collection of small exhibition posters from Paris. Braque, Picasso, Miro, Matisse and others have an unfailing instinct foe the stylish, the inventive, the tasteful, the bold, and French printers and typographers have done wonders with the presentation of these charming trifles. Almost equally charming and trifling are a set of spirited little fantasies on Sicilian puppets seen against romantic Sicilian backgrounds. They are by a woman artist whose unfamiliar name is Hilly.





By Our London Art Critic




Notes on two other London Art exhibitions may be added to those published in Saturday's issue.

At the Hanover Gallery, Francis Bacons recent paintings of the Magdalen are less horrifying and more empty than usual; but, if anything, the mans great gifts as a painter are re-emphasised. Hilly, in the upstairs gallery, is having a fine game with his "Fighting Fools" in their golden armour. The glass seems to have been squeezed hard against the wet paint to give a new texture to these ghosts of Don Quixote.

At the Lefevre Gallery, Ben Nicholson still makes me wonder whether he is a mathematician timidly enamoured of paint, or a painter fascinated by the elementary shapes of geometry. It is all slight, charming, and amusing, or, if you are bent on analysing the great compositions of the masters and resolving them into their simplicities, you may even say it is all very profound.






British Art Covering 5 Decades

     To Have Preview Here Tonight





An official preview of an exhibition representing the last fifty years of British art will be held tonight at the Knoedler Galleries, 14 East Fifty-seventh Street, for the benefit of the English-Speaking Union, which is sponsoring the show.

The paintings and water-colors are on loan from important British collections, including that of Queen Elizabeth. They are selected by Robin Ironside, painter and critic, with the cooperation of Sir Kenneth Clark, former director of London's National Gallery, who has written the catalogue forward.

The exhibitions shows the work of those men close to the turn of the century who were influenced by French Impressionism and by the native styles of Constable and Turner and the Anglicized Whistler.

The romantic approach is apparent throughout the exhibition. It is felt in the tender, yet purposeful, water-colors by Paul Nash and in the wild Wuthering Heights mystery of John Piper's work. In a more violent form, the sense of nature's fierceness comes through in Graham Sutherland's paintings of hills and thorn trees. Some of Henry Moore's shelter-drawings are also included.

Among those whose styles show connections with continental surrealism is Lucien Freud and son-in-law of the sculptor Jacob Epstein. A more personal kind of emotional expressionism is found in two haunting, awesome paintings by Francis Bacon, descendant of the Elizabethan philosopher. These weird, brooding figure-pieces give twentieth-century overtones to visions as eerie as those in a Gothick novel.

Two portraits are of special interest. Coldstream has painted the poet Auden in a quiet, contemplative mood, while Augustus John has captured some of the dry wit of Bernard Shaw in the picture which was lent by Queen Elizabeth. It is too bad that Sutherland's portrait of Somerset Maugham also could not have been included, for it would have made an interesting contrast.

Among lenders to the exhibition are Sir Kenneth Clark, Mr. Tree, Lady Keynes, Sir Edward Marsh, Mr. Eric Newton, Sir Colin Anderson, Mr. Peter Lanyon, Mrs. Cazalet-Keir, Mr. L. McCormick-Goodhart, Hon. Edward Sackville-West, Mr. Whitney Straight, the Contemporary Art Society and the Tate Galery.

The exhibition will run until Oct. 28. Then it will travel to several museums throughout the country.




‘Shall we buy this painting?’









Subscribers to the Leeds Art Collections Fund are to be asked to say whether they support the purchase of one of the remarkable paintings by Francis Bacon at present on show in the exhibition of contemporary British art at the Leeds Art Gallery.

In a letter to them, Mr. Ernest L Musgrave, Director of the Gallery and hon. secretary of the Fund, explains that the exhibition was originally suggested by the Committee of the Fund. Feeling that some of the accumulated fund might be used to buy the work of the more advanced contemporary British painters not yet represented in the Leeds collection, he says, the Committee proposed the holding of the exhibition in order that they might consider purchases.

"Your Committee has now met." he adds, "and after careful thought has selected eight works, the prices of which total £400."


There remains the question whether to buy one of the Francis Bacon paintings. Mr. Musgrave continues: - "One artist whom the Committee considers to be of unusual interest was Francis Bacon. There was a strong feeling that the large 'Painting, 1950,' No.7 in the catalogue, was outstanding, characteristic and worthy of consideration. The price, however, is considerably more that the Fund usually spends on one picture, and it was agreed that subscribers might be invited to give their opinion on its purchase."

The letter ends by saying that the Committee would appreciate an expression of subscribers' views on the matter and ask them to send a letter or postcard to the hon. secretary at Temple Newsam House.

Francis Bacon's "Painting, 1950" is priced at £285 in the catalogue. The artist is a collateral descendant of Sir Francis Bacon, the great Elizabethan. His canvases which show great mastery of the medium of oil paint, are often enigmatic and disturbing in their subject matter. Examples of his works have been bought by the Tate Gallery, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Contemporary Art Society.

Problem picture of 1950

Lively discussion should be created among subscribers to the Leeds Art Collections Fund by the decision of the Committee to ask their views about the purchase of one of Francis Bacon's paintings. He is among the more advanced artists whose work is now on show at Leeds Art Gallery.

In "Painting, 1950," the work upon which subscribers are being asked to express an opinion, a naked figure of a man seen standing in a sombre interior. His pinkish flesh gleams in the grey atmosphere which surrounds him, and behind him is a shadow, conveying a feeling of menace. Towards the bottom of the picture is a broad patch of red.

When I spoke about the picture to the Director of Leeds Art Gallery, Mr. E. L. Musgrave, last night, he said: "The painting seems to me to express the tension and disquiet we feel at the moment. All the distrust and secretiveness which we sense about us in this threatening world of 1950 is summed up in this picture. That is how I interpret it."

Do the subscribers to the fund wish to spend their money on a painting which sums up our contemporary situation in this way? Do they feel that Francis Bacon's paintings will have valuable significance for later generations of Leeds citizens, trying to understand what it felt like to live in this age? I cannot pretend to answer these questions: but I applaud the democratic way in which the Committee of the Art Collections Fund have decided to consult those whose money they have in trust.





        Puzzle picture

             of 1950:


        ‘ugly’ . . ‘vivid’





A picture by Francis Bacon, priced at £285, now on show at Leeds Art Gallery, has aroused friendly controversy among members of the Leeds Art Collections Fund.

Mr. Ernest L Musgrave, Director of the Gallery and honorary secretary of the Fund wrote to members asking them whether they thought the picture should be bought for the city's permanent collection. A large canvas in oils, it is titles simply "Painting (1950)" and shows the naked figure of a man against vivid stripes. The central panel  is surrounded by rectangles, black on each side, blue at the top and red at the bottom.

A decision will be made by a committee of the Fund, to meet next Friday.


‘Mankind in darkness’


Remarks from replies to Mr. Musgrave's letter include:—

"I do not know what the picture represents. Apparently the artist does not know either. He has been unable to give it a name to distinguish it from any other picture."

"... To me it represented most vividly mankind, today, walking in darkness."

"It is the outstanding work in the exhibition. . . . There is something elemental in its expression of aggressive brute strength and courage."

"I think he (Francis Bacon) is a painter of considerable power whose works will outlast some at least of the others. . . . ."

"I am entirely in favour  of buying one of the Bacons, though I think they are all perfectly revolting."

"The painting gives me no pleasure at all; therefore, it should not be bought."

"It is incredibly ugly. The colour is almost childish and an eyesore."

"I like the colour, but I think the symbolism and meaning of the picture are a bit obscure."


‘Not intended to be pleasant’


Mr. Musgrave told "The Yorkshire Post" yesterday that there is a majority against buying the picture but the minority in favour of buying it is strong.

"It is a good thing for people to be persuaded to think seriously about one particular work of art," he said.

"Some people have made the mistake of trying to find pleasure in the picture, which is not supposed to give pleasure but to arouse emotions which are not necessarily pleasant."




                               Francis Bacon, Panting, 1950, Leeds City Art Gallery




 Leeds Fund to

   buy Bacons

‘Painting (1950)’





Leeds Art Collections Fund Committee decided yesterday to include among their purchases from the exhibition of 15 contemporary British painters, held during the last month in the City Art Gallery, Francis Bacon’s ‘‘Painting (1950),’’ an enigmatic work that has been the subject of much discussion.

The price of the painting, originally quoted in the catalogue as 285 guineas, is 220 guineas.

 Before reaching their decision, the committee considered replies to a circular letter sent to the Fund’s subscribers by Mr. E. I. Musgrave (hon. secretary and  of the Fund and Director of the Art Gallery). In this letter, subscribers were asked if they thought the painting should be bought for the city's permanent collection. A total of 48 replies was received, and they showed a slight majority in favour of the purchase.

The work is a large expressionist painting in oils, showing a powerfully-built naked figure of a man against a vividly-striped background.


A sinister note


At the top of the picture there is a deep band of blue, like a night sky; two broad bands of deeper blue run down each side; and across the base there is a broad band of red which gives a sensational effect. A human shadow, slightly bent and clearly not that of the man, strikes a sinister note.

In the absence of any lead from the artist, who is a collateral descendent of Sir Francis Bacon, the great Elizabethan, various interpretations have been given to the painting. Mr. Musgrave considers it suggests the menace of the present times.

The Committee were agreed that the painting was the most important in the exhibition but they decided to circularise subscribers because the price was considerably more than the Fund usually spent on one picture.

The Committee decided to buy five other works shown at the exhibition. They are: ‘‘The Ghost,’’ by Louis Le Brocquy, for 75 guineas;  ‘‘Anemones and Lemons,’’ by the Leeds-born artist, Patrick Heron, for 40 guineas; ‘‘Fish in a glass Tank,’’  by John Minton, a young artist attacked by Sir Alfred Munnings in his famous speech at the Academy dinner (35 guineas); ‘‘Figure Undressing,’’ by Keith Vaughan (35 guineas); and  ‘The Dragon Pot,’’ a drawing by Ceri Richards (16 guineas).

The purchase f two other paintings Robert Colquhoun’s  ‘‘Lovers,’’ and Robert MacBryde’s  ‘‘Woman in front of a Leaded Window’’ is under consideration.


20 pictures sold


The exhibition, which ended yesterday, attracted the attention of private collectors. Including the purchases for Leeds, about 20 pictures were sold.

Our Art Critic writes: The Committee's purchases have been made after prolonged study of the exhibition. A first choice was made, and this was carefully revised after consultation among members of the Committee.

The choice of Francis Bacon’s large ‘‘Painting (1950)’’ will startle some people, but it has received encouraging support from many subscribers to the Art Collections Fund. It is a bold purchase, and I believe it will prove to have been a good one. Like Edvard Munch and the German Expressionists who followed his lead, Francis Bacon has a way of expressing feelings below the level of normal consciousness. In so doing he is attempting to accomplish in paint what some of our leading modern novelists  and poets have done in prose or verse.

This particular picture, ‘‘Painting (1950),’’ may be interpreted in different ways; but the title possibly gives us a clue to its inner meaning. The year 1950 will be vividly remembered by most of us as a year of tension and haunting disquiet: that tension and that disquiet are in this picture, as the eerie menace of the war days was in some of Paul Nash’s remarkable paintings of bombers, and as the spiritual desolation of the Twenties was expressed in Mr. Eliot’s ‘‘The Waste Land.’





The Paintings of Francis Bacon



                                    By DAVID SYLVESTER





THERE are any number of ways of representing the world, and all of them are equally valid. Simply because, as J. Z. Young told us, ‘the brain of each on of us does literally create his or her own world’. So the artist’s task is not to paint things ‘as they are’-the phrase indeed, is meaningless-but to make us believe that things are as he paints them. Every really creative artist presents us with a new picture of reality and convinces us that it is a true picture. And, in convincing us, he imposes his vision upon our habits of seeing the world around us. But the artist himself, before he evolves his personal vision, has habits of seeing which he has acquired from other artists. Because these habits are always deeply ingrained, he can do no more than modify the vision of those others, who are usually artists of his own time and also those masters of the past to whom he is most drawn. It is this perpetual overlapping of an existing vision by a new vision that creates a living tradition.

In recent times, however, our way of seeing has come to be shaped  less by painting than by the photograph, and especially by photographs reproduced in newspapers and on the cinema screen. This smudge of greys on the front page is what Mr. Churchill looks like. These colourless lights and shadows wafted on a beam are the Trooping of the Colour. The camera has gained control of our emotions and desires: it is on the cover of the picture-paper, not behind the footlights, that we find our dream-girl. In these conditions, if would hardly be surprising if, instead of some established style of painting, the photograph became the point of departure of an artist’s vision: especially if that artist were obsessed by the transient and the fugitive. This, at any rate, is what has happened in the case of Francis Bacon. We can best understand his relation to photography by remembering the very different way in which Degas and Sickert used it. For them is provided a new slant on reality: it showed them the world off-balance. And in their paintings they imitated this fresh and exciting way of trapping the life around them. But they were not interested in the photographs themselves; they looked through them, not at them. For Bacon, on the other hand, the whole point of the photograph is that it is not something new, that on the contrary it is utterly commonplace and is the medium through which we have got used to seeing reality. Consequently, it is the photograph itself that excites him. Since its mystery for him lies in its very banality, he is fascinated above all when it takes its most banal form–the picture in the newspaper. And the result is that he tries to make the appearance of his paintings resemble that of these printed pictures.

It seems rather odd that a painter should aim at stimulating the photograph when the phrase ‘photographic realism’ has long been a term of contempt in art criticism. But this is because the phrase has been misused. It is generally applied to painting which portrays things as no more than the sum of their details, unified neither structurally nor imaginatively. This is exactly the opposite of what the photograph does. A photograph sees things as a whole, it envelops forms with atmosphere, it renders masses and spaces in a consistent overall texture. Indeed, the camera, in its innocent way, has tackled many of the problems that have troubled some of the greatest painters.

How, then, does Bacon set about imitating the effect of a photograph? In the first place, he paints human figures in casual, transitory positions as if they had been caught unawares in a candid camera shot. Then, he gives the surface of his paint that curious matt haziness which is characteristic of pictures in the newspapers. And, of course, his colour is predominantly grey and black. When he does introduce violets and pinks into this scheme, we merely feel that the photograph has been tinted. Next, he dissolves the contours of his forms into the surrounding atmosphere, so reproducing the smudged effect of a picture on cheap newsprint. Lastly, he avoids placing planes parallel to the picture-plane–partly because by doing so he would give the composition a formality that would destroy its casual air, and partly because such planes assert the picture-plane itself and prevent the painting from giving the impression which a photograph gives of an image existing entirely behind the surface it is printed on. It is probably for the same purpose of dissolving away the picture-plane that Bacon always exhibits his paintings behind glass.

While all these devices produce an effect akin to that of a photograph, it is not from photography that Bacon has learned them. It is the late paintings of Rembrandt that have shown him how to use an extremely restricted range of colour, how to dissolve forms into space, and how to destroy the picture-plane. For Bacon’s problem is, finally, very much a painter’s problem. It is to make paint on canvas function in a way analogous to that in which ink functions on news print. From his attempt to do this derives one of the most remarkable and mysterious qualities of his work. Very often, when we look suddenly at a picture in the papers, our first impression is simply one of nebulous, blotchy greys whose meaning is altogether vague. Likewise, looking at some of Bacon’s paintings, we are conscious at first only of the paint, seeing it as some amorphous, ectoplasmic substance floating aimlessly on the canvas. It takes a little time before this stuff that is paint crystallises into an image. But as soon as it does crystallise, the once vague and shifting shapes become volumes modelled with a wonderful sensitivity and situated with extreme precision in space.

Immediate Sense of Pain

The certainty with which Bacon creates volumes, volumes that are tangible, is largely due to his uncanny sense of the exact degree of tension along each form. One of his pictures shows the lower half of a human face with the mouth open in a scream which is provoked by the fact that one ear is attached to a cord drawn out taut from the ceiling of the room. What makes this image so overwhelmingly moving–at the level of tragedy, not Grand Guignol–is how vividly we are made to realise the tightness of the cord. The intense grasp of the physical reality of the situation makes us feel it is ourselves who are being tortured. This immediate sense of pain is engendered again by the way in which Bacon, in a painting of the Crucifixion, causes us to sense the tension of the stretched-out armpits and biceps. Likewise, in painting flesh, Bacon conveys the exact variations of its softness and resilience at different places. And when he clothes his figures, the paint explains precisely where and how the fabric clings to the body.

Should it be asked why Bacon bothers to paint at all if he is going to simulate the photograph, it can be answered that no photograph can suggest tactile sensations of the kind I have described. But this is not the only respect in which the painter, while imitating the camera’s effects, can give his image far more reality than a camera can. The mechanical eye of the camera cannot produce a deliberate and controlled distortion, and such distortion of what the eye sees is imperative if an illusion on a flat surface of a solid world is to be perfectly convincing. Again, much of the emotional effect of an image derives from the precision with which the shapes are related, and the painter has complete freedom, which the photographer has not, to determine the exact form and size of every shape in his image. Consider what happens when the painter and photographer are snatching at an instantaneous reality. In both cases we sense that an instant from now the forms would have changed position. In the photograph, where the present situation of the forms is inevitably haphazard, this promise of movement means nothing. In a painting, where their situation seems no less accidental but is in fact scrupulously planned, the promise of movement threatens to break an exquisite balance and therefore charges the image with tension. Altogether, then, the kind of quasi-photograph that Francis Bacon paints can be far more real and far more dramatic than any true photograph.

More dramatic and more real–but still presented in the casual, everyday guise of pictures in the newspaper. And it is just this that makes Bacon’s work so disturbing, because his subject matter is not that of the newspapers: it is a mythology of terror. It consists largely of variations upon three themes. One is the Crucifixion. The second is  a figure of a man whose world is bounded and dominated by a curtain hanging behind him. In one picture he crouches in front of it, in another is about to escape through a gap in it. In others, he is dissolving into it; for his image is actually imprinted on the curtain’s folds. These are images of man’s isolation, threatening death. A seated man with his mouth opened in a scream is the third theme. One of the most haunting examples shows the man seated before a microphone. The upper half of his face has melted away, for the whole meaning of his existence is a gaping mouth which seems to give vent simultaneously to the ravings of a dictator and the shriek of his victims. The present exhibition includes two screaming figures whose pose and clothes are based on Velasquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X. In these, the atmosphere is so oppressive that the open mouths seem silent, as if the scream were too awful to be uttered.

When these horrifying phantasms are presented to us, as they are, in the same form as the film star getting into her aeroplane, and the goalkeeper failing to make a save, they become all the more disquieting, because all the more to be taken for granted. And it is this, I believe, that gives Bacon’s work its value: that he has distilled the essence of human agony and presented it in a perfectly matter-of-fact way. Like Kafka, indeed. And as with Kafka, it only seems to be a matter-of-fact way. For this, after all, is really a disguise that overlays the lyrical qualities of these works–I mean the exquisite subtlety of their modelling, the hushed beauty of their colour, the expansiveness of their space, the rather discrete grandeur of their form.

In spite their lyric qualities, which are eternal, it may be that the magic which Bacon’s pictures have for us owes too much to their relevance to certain peculiarities of our age. If this is so, his work will date and future generations will see him as a far smaller figure than we do. But I know that for me he is today the most important living painter–by which I do not mean the greatest–because no other has expressed as he has our particular attitude to human suffering. To paint what is anguished in the modern world has been, on the whole, the prerogative of the Expressionists–painters who frenziedly inflict their personal torment upon the objects represented, so that these become mangled and deformed, and therefore not completely convincing. Their approach still corresponds to the attitude towards suffering of the period at which Expressionism originated–the tortured bitterness and indignation which we find in the plays of Strindberg, and which we would expect to find in an age that had only just lost faith both in religion and liberalism. Our attitude to suffering–and again I mean suffering which is pointless and not a means to salvation–our attitude is more detached, more sophisticated: we are ready to try to accept and understand it.

Some might suggest that this attitude informs the art of the Surrealists: certainly, they presented their visions of pain and cruelty with a clarity, an absence of deformation, an impersonality, that seem to spell detachment and acceptance. But there is no real detachment in the frigid and minute enumeration and examination of one’s nightmares. What there is is a desperate attempt to exorcise one’s fears by looking at them with the cold unblinking state of the dead. Bacon is as free of this morbidity as he is free of the hysteria and self-dramatisation of the Expressionists. He puts horror on canvas with sobriety and dignity and that warmth with which all true artists see whatever is. His paintings embody the attitude which is essentially that of our generation, a generation which has had to learn to go beyond despair: the attitude expressed in the closing words of Huis Clos, when Garcin, having recognised that there is no way out and that frustration is endless, says, ‘Eh bien, continuons’. The attitude that life is hell and we had better get used to the idea.–Third Programme




       One of the paintings by Francis Bacon based on Velazquez's portrait of Pope Innocent X: from the exhibition of new paintings by Bacon at the Hanover Gallery





Round the London Art Galleries





THE exhibition of Dutch prints and drawings now being held at the British Museum, concurrently with the winter exhibition at Burlington House is an aesthetic treat not to be missed. There are several superb Rembrandt's, some Jan van Scorels—far finer than the finished pictures—a wonderful drawing by Lucas van Leyden, and a view of a town by Hendrik Avercamp which deserves prolonged examination. The drawing by lesser-known masters of the eighteenth century, like so much of that period,  show how completely the comfort and amenity of life can be expressed through the medium of a slight talent. But it is to the Rembrandts that one returns; they are, in their way, even more impressive than the paintings in Burlington House. Never, surely, has any artist said so much with such heroic economy of means. The most exciting exhibit, which in itself makes makes a visit imperative, is the 'Calumny of Apelles' which may here be compared with Mantegna's original. A copy of the work of one great artist by another is always interesting, but when one is able to compare differences of treatment in a medium as personal and direct as pen and ink, the lesson in style is particularly impressive and revealing.

It is manifestly unfair, but not uninstructive, to bear Rembrandt's drawings in mind while examining the paintings at the Leicester Galleries New Year Exhibition; for in this pleasantly heterogeneous show, which contains a brilliant drawing by Matisse, a brave near-miss by Moynihan and a very charming impression of a head-lamp illuminated road by Mary Potter, there are two distressing but gifted sketches by Francis Bacon. Francis Bacon, like Rembrandt, is saying something very personal and very much charged with emotional force; the prettily coloured abstraction by Graham Sutherland which hangs between his sketches resembles an inefficient chairman failing to keep hecklers in order. But whereas Rembrandt had no difficultly in making himself understood, being able to infuse stock subjects with overwhelming dramatic and perceptive sensibility, those of our contemporaries who feel that their pictures should tell us what may, very loosely be termed 'stories' find it necessary to invent a private mythology. A message of this nature must either be obscure, in which case it would seem to be a failure as a work of art, or it must be delivered with such fearful vigour as to be crude, but comprehensible. Francis Bacon appears to have fallen between these two stools. His screaming face and his smudgy glass-encased Pope are as mysterious as Rembrandt's sketch called 'The Clemency of Scipio' (and which may be Alexander with the family of Darius); but whereas the content of both these works is uncertain one feels before the modern picture that one is confronted by an impotent nightmare effort to express the inexpressible, whereas, in the Rembrandt, the subject is but the starting point for a series of acute and brilliant observations.




Snapshots from Hell





NEXT week one of Manhattan's 57th Street galleries will turn itself into a chamber of horrors. The occasion: the first U.S. show of British Painter Francis Bacon,* who is responsible for perhaps the most original and certainly the ghastliest canvases to appear in the past decade. Bacon has brought the finicky satanism of Aubrey Beardsley, Britain's famed Victorian horror dabbler, up to date, but he tops Beardsley as surely as, in literature, Franz Kafka topped Poe.

Stars of Bacon's Manhattan show: five purplish ultramarine cardinals, including those opposite. Painter Bacon says he has nothing against cardinals: "Really I just wanted an excuse to use those colors, and you can't give ordinary clothes that purple colour without getting into a sort of false fauve manner." The fact that cardinals do not wear robes—or faces—that kind of purple troubles him not a whit.

Bland, boyish and 42, Bacon lives in London, vacations in Riviera gambling halls. Among his pet subjects in the past were visceral creatures squatting on table tops, elephants in the veldt, misty male nudes and bloody-fanged dogs, all glazed with horror. Critical reaction to Bacon's art has been a rather alarmed "Splendid!" Wrote London Critic Eric Newton: "Mr. Bacon contrives to be both unforgettable and repellent . . . [This] requires genius —an unhappy, desperate kind of genius."

Bacon approaches his subjects in the grand manner; he isolates each one, gives it lots of room in a big canvas and paints it with virtuoso brilliance and economy. Perhaps his chief distinction is that he captures in painting the quality of disembodied urgency, of pain writhing in a void, that is peculiar to many news pictures of violent death (for source material, Bacon collects old newspaper photographs, preferably of crimes and accidents). Bacon has a trick of veiling faces with a wispy scumble of paint that creates an illusion of motion, like a photograph in which the subject moved his head. This forces the spectator to peer closely at the picture; he becomes involved, drawn into the darkness.

* Who "neither knows nor cares" whether he is descended from the great British philosopher of the same name.





Mr. Francis Bacon's New Paintings





Mr. Francis Bacon always paints on the wrong, the unprimed, side of the canvas and perhaps this may be considered typical of his whole approach to his art and of the way in which he always makes difficulties for himself. Difficulties for himself, but not, of course, for those of his admirers, who remain fascinated by the wilfulness of his imagination, the cryptic unpleasantness of his iconography, and his seemingly inexhaustible capacity for discovering yet more perverse and unpromising  themes for large and monumental compositions. For these it would be a bitter disappointment if he turned the canvas round and painted some everyday theme in an ordinary way that would permit one to judge, as it is almost impossible to do from most of his work, the real extent and character of his talent for painting.

In the pictures now exhibited at the Beaux Arts Gallery, Bruton Place, he makes yet more obvious than before his dependence on photography, and no painter, it is safe to say, has ever used photographs in a more extraordinary way. Instead of merely taking them as a guide to construction and drawing, he actually seeks, as is particularly obvious in a triptych of three heads which seem to be taken from American Press photographs showing some politician in the most agitated moments of  a speech, to give the picture the horrible look, and even the disagreeable colour and texture, of a photographic enlargement. When at the same time the third of the series of heads has undergone that mysterious disintegration which is one of Mr. Bacon's favourite methods of making one's flesh creep, the effect becomes almost unbearably unpleasant.

The exhibition also includes one of Mr. Bacons compositions based upon Velasquezs pope, but with the face contorted by a scream, and a very large painting of the Sphinx against a background which is taken, it is said, from a photograph of the stadium prepared for the Nuremberg rally. The effect of these, as so often with Mr. Bacon's recent work, is to suggest that one is in the cinema but that the film has suddenly stopped being wound; the dramatic tension is at its height, and then suddenly frozen and fixed. this does not leave the mind in a fit state for aesthetic contemplation or judgement, but a small picture of a man chewing a chicken bone, though also taken from a photograph, is sufficiently undramatic and unalarming to make it possible for the spectator to see - but also, perhaps, for the artist to produce - some much more genuinely pictorial qualities. Here there is a real continuity throughout the picture and genuine feeling for both the substance and texture of flesh and cloth; perhaps there might be yet more of these qualities if the artist had worked from a living model.




Round the London Galleries





Mr. Francis Bacon is showing some new pictures at the Redfern Galleries. It is an impressive, or at least a disconcerting, exhibition. The visitor enters the main room to find himself surrounded and reflected in huge black canvases. There is a dog and a sphinx and six portraits of a man, who seems to be a cashier (or the ghost of a cashier), seated at what may be a desk (or might be a coffin) and encased in glass. The variations of the figure's posture make the whole series resemble one of those photographic interviews in the illustrated papers in which a celebrity is shown arguing with a reporter. As usual, the faces of the figures have been partially obliterated in order to suggest a modish decomposition of the flesh. For all his terribilità Mr. Bacon is a dainty artist. I use the adjective advisedly because it was Whistler's; with whom, if we can for a moment disregard his sound and fury, we shall find that he has much in common. He has the same Japanese tastefulness in composition, the same summary but effective brushwork, the same taste for restricted and rather pretty colour; the same inability to come to grips with the fundamental problems of painting; not, in my opinion, the same talent. This gallery is also showing some drawings by that gifted artist Mr. William Scott.





Round the London Galleries





Sir,—Mr. Bell, in his review (THE LISTENER, June 17) of the work of Francis Bacon at the Hanover Gallery, makes a grave mistake when he writes of Mr. Bacon's 'sound and fury' which he feels a need to disregard in order to compare these pictures with those of Whistler. Bacon is essentially a painter of silences, the silences which persist at a much deeper level (even if they are inarticulate) than the declamatory furies of many critics of his work.

Before any critic can justly condemn the 'inability of an artist to come to grips with the fundamental problems of painting', he should at least show that he appreciates the fundamental problem and intention of the artist in question, and then he may be in a position to assess whether the means he has employed achieves the end in view. I cannot conceive the implications of Mr. Bacon's pictures being more powerfully communicated by any other methods than those he is using, and this surely can be the only important criterion. Any attempt by what perhaps Mr. Bell would consider 'gifted artists' to convey what Mr. Bacon is interested in communicating would be very wide of the mark, no matter how much ability, etc. Mr. Bacon's gift is visionary, and he is absolutely justified in ignoring some of the outworn conventions of 'picture making' in order to contribute a new intensity and vitality, and also the necessary mystery of his intentions, etc.Yours, etc.,

R. DE MÉRIC   London S.W.5     





Round the London Galleries






Another current event of unusual interest in the Francis Bacon exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. This selection of paintingsis in effect a miniature retrospective, which includes three three of the artists five re-war works known to be extant. The fourteen exhibits also include five paintings of the last two years which have not hitherto been shown in London (Nos. 7, 10, 11, and 13 and one hors catalogue). The selection is therefore an extremely interesting oneand also an extremely good one in that the majority of the works give us Bacon at his very best. One does, however, regret the absence of a landscape, and of a work of the period 1945-46what might be called the redperiod and, above all, of one of those grey, ectoplasmic paintings of the year 1949 which dominated Bacons first one-man show (the exhibit catalogued as Figure with Monkey, 1949’ is not in fact the painting of that title done at that time but another, executed two years later).

Retrospective exhibitionseven of artists still in their fortiesgenerally provide the occasion for a balanced evaluation. This is virtually impossible in Bacons case, because many of the things that make him exciting today may render him laughable for future generations. For all the painters working now anywhere in the world Bacon is the most absolutely modern.. He is bound up in the widespread trend towards dealing afresh with the problems of visual appearances, yet of all the painters moving in this direction he is almost alone in being a radical innovator, who is neither adapting the post-cubist tradition to a new purpose, nor reverting for inspiration to Courbet or the impressionists. Secondly, he exploits devices learnt from photography with a sophistication which painters have only just begun to exercise, for all that they have borrowed from photographs throughout the last hundred years. Thirdly, he uses paintor, rather, through his reliance on automatism, allows the paint he usesto create evocative ambiguities of the kind which spring from action painting and other means of expression on the borderline between abstract-expressionism and surrealism. All of which adds up to the fact that Bacon is reconciling the most contradictory of advanced tendencies. In these respects, he is certainly no more  modern that Alberto Giacometti. But, beyond this, Bacon the counterpart in painting of those writers who are most profoundly  characteristic  of this post-war period Malraux, Sartre  and Camus: all the themes are there: angst; the solitariness of man; the immanence of violence and disaster. Giacometti may convey no less than he has that man is utterly alone; but not that man is living on the edge of the abyss. In Bacons noiseless and oppressive spaces (as in our lives today) man confronts the unendurable. If this nightmare, which haunts us most when we are most awake, can ever be laughed off, then will be the time when Bacons images may get round to looking a bit silly.




        Private View: Francis Bacon, The Institute of Contemporary Arts, 20 January - 19 February 1955




Round the London Galleries






At the Hanover Gallery there is an exhibition of new  and not so new paintings by Mr. Graham Sutherland, Mr. Francis Bacon, and Mr. William Scott. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this is that Mr. Scott seems to have given up pure abstraction and gone back to still-life paintings of recognisable objects with which in the past he largely made his name. Some of the ruggedness that he developed in his abstract period and which was in marked contrast to the crisp execution of his earlier work still remains in the new pictures, but this may be all to the good; his former precision, the conspicuous skill with which he could produce the most telling summary of any very simple object, was certainly attractive but might have become dangerously slick. With the readmission of some small element of realism he has certainly regained his old power, much more often found in French than in English painters, of hitting out a contrast of colour, of pronouncing a firm statement of the values, which enables one at once to distinguish his pictures even when seen in the largest mixed exhibition.

Besides two large and certainly impressive canvases from an earlier series, the sequence of burly men shouting or screaming, Mr. Bacon shows two recent paintings, a good deal smaller, based on the mask of Blake's face. The mask itself presents a powerful image to which Mr. Bacon's not very considerable alterations and distortions did not add very much, but the pictures are really excellently painted and with a sure grasp of form; if he should continue in this vein he might end by becoming an admirable portrait painter or a quietly sensitive observer of still life, a development that would certainly disappoint many of his admirers, but might reveal the true nature of his talent in the end.

The one or two paintings by Mr. Graham Sutherland do not tell one anything very new about his art, but there is an interesting picture in his science-fiction manner, an apparition that might well be taken for an organism from another world.




At the Tate Gallery





It is, of course, pathetic that the Tate Gallery should have to publish a begging letter asking the general public to subscribe £5,ooo for the purchase of two Matisse reliefs to complete a set of four, the Gallery itself having been able to afford to buy only two. One has to deplore not only the moral implications of the State’s meanness in regard to the arts but the lack of business acumen this shows. The State wants to attract tourists, yet won’t put itself out to help to make our museums attractive to tourists. It wants to gain prestige in matters of the spirit, yet does so much less than might be done to promote and assist artistic creation, a notorious source of prestige. Still, it must be remembered that the State is equally reluctant to subsidise other activities which can help to earn dollars or national prestigemotor racing, for example, or participation in the Olympic Games.

THE way in which the reliefs are presented at the Tare is admirable so far as their placing and spacing are concerned. The one shortcoming is that the forms become broken up by the excessive accent given to the more or less horizontal planes by the lighting of the Tate’s sculpture galleriesa top light coming through a roof high above. The proportions of these galleries, in fact, resemble those of a well. And, indeed, sculptures drown in them--without needing water, only too much air. The present arrangement of these galleries has, at any rate, made the best, or something like the best, of a bad Jobespecially in the near gallery, where the Rodins and Renoirs, and the Matisse reliefs, are shown. The bigger works look very fine, though I think that some of the smaller Rodins give the impression that they have been added as afterthoughts. The far gallery has clearly presented more of a problem, for here the sculptures are far more diverse, both in style and scale. What is felicitous here is the way in which paintings have been used to fill in the vast dreary areas of wall without clashing with the sculptures. But I am not sure that it is the right thing to do to range all the sculptures along the sides of the gallery, leaving the middle of the floor empty. This classic arrangement works well in the near. gallery, with its. perspective of upright life-size figures. But in the far gallery I should have thought a less symmetrical arrangement desirable.

As a matter of fact, there is no great encouragement to believe that more screens would lead to more coherent hanging, because the principal modern British room is the most confused gallery of them all. One section is given over to the Euston Road and allied painters, and, quite apart from any art-historical considerations, this is the only section which it is tolerable to look at as a whole. The rest of the. room is a chaos in which some of the arrangement seems based on art-historical reasoning, some on decorative reasoning, and some on no reasoning at all. The latest aberrationat the time of writingobviously has a reason, shortage of space, but it is still unforgivable: this is the placing of Bacon’s Figure in a landscape, with its delicate tonalities and its reliance upon the subtlest nuances of brushwork, high up on the wall, as if it were a forthright decorative composition. It is unforgivable because nearby wall-space in prominent positions has been found, permanently it would seem, for immature works by young painters which should not really be on the Tate’s walls at all.

The Tate staff might, for one thing, get titles right. Why is Henry Moores Family Group ungrammatically labelled The Family Group? Why is Moynihan’s Portrait Group, as the artist called it, pedantically but incorrectly labelled, The Teaching Staff of the Royal College of Art when, in fact, the group consists only of the staff of the College’s Painting School? Why is Bacon’s triptych called Three studies for a larger composition? I know the answer here. Originally it was known as Three studies for figures at the base of a crucifixion. This title was thought likely to give offence and another one found. Subsequently it was pointed out to the authorities that the new title was altogether misleading, because the artist had never intended to paint "a larger composition" (none of Bacon’s "Studies" is ever a study in this sense). But a request, made on behalf of the artist, for the title to be changed to Three studies from the human figure was turned down.




British Masters Of Art 






A panorama of British painting covering a span of 150 years, from 1800 to 1950, will be unfolded at the Museum of Modern Art on Wednesday. No exhibition of this scope has ever been presented in this country; for the occasion, Britains museums and collectors have lent their finest paintings. The selection of works emphasizes the continuity of a distinctively British romantic tradition in all its diverse, even eccentric expression. It should help to modify our conventional notion of the British as unemotional, hardheaded people. From Constable and Turner to the contemporary Sutherland, the passionate involvement of British painters with nature in all her variety is continually in evidence. Although landscape is the dominant theme of British painting during the past 150 years, other facets of British art have been stressed. In chronological order these are represented by the mystical illusions of Blake; the moral and socially conscious paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites; the American Whistlers revolt against Victorian story-telling pictures; his pupil Sickerts theatrical and low-life scenes in Edwardian London; the reaction in the Thirties, by such men as Nicholson, Nash and Sutherland, to Continental art movements; and Pasmores return in the late Thirties to a Whistlerian naturalism. The show concludes with Francis Bacon, who has created a great sensation in post-war British art circles.

"PAINTING," by Francis Bacon (born 1910). Done in 1946, this work may symbolize the horror of war, but its immediate impact is not symbolic. Before its screaming color, its monstrous butcher, its strung-up carcass of beef, ones first impression is of a nightmarish actuality.












It is difficult now to believe that the Gothic” novels of the nineteenth century ever really thrilled or chilled their readers' blood, but apparently they did. Perhaps some hundred years from now, the paintings of Francis Bacon may be regarded as quaint ghost stories of the twentieth century. But for the present, the images of this younger British artist, now represented in Detroit by the recently acquired Study for a Nude,1 must be counted among the most powerful and disquieting of his time.

Bacon's work has none of the exuberance of the now flourishing school of abstract expressionism. His is a reserved palette, with a preference for the understatement of blacks, greys, blues, and purples; he shows little appetite for the uncomplicated delights of pure form and texture. His style is a functional one; although he paints with genuine virtuosity, his technique is never given over to a completely sensuous appeal, but is dedicated with single-minded concentration to the description of his personal vision.

In many of his paintings, Bacon has been directly preoccupied with themes of mutilation and dismemberment; even his less dramatic works are unmistakably sinister in implication. His chief source of visual imagery is a collection of news photographs reporting crimes and accidents, a kind of contemporary chamber of horrors. But, by what he calls a process of elliptical forms – shapes ... remade or put slightly out of focus to bring in their memory traces”2– he avoids the meaningless shock of realistic horror and draws his power instead from that store of violence and terror of which nightmares are made.

Despite the uniquely modern character of his art, Bacon's work is not so much outside the main stream of western tradition as it is painfully attached to it. The haunting forms which inhabit his canvases are rather like Eliot's Hollow Men, nominal descendants of the Renaissance hero, but reduced to impotence and agony by their sense of present futility.

Study for a Nude is a case in point. Its title is a certain if not deliberate irony, inviting comparison between this scarcely human creature and the beautifully articulated nudes of humanist art. Bacon was forty-two when he painted this picture in 1952; it is not unreasonable to suppose that the scale of numbers from twenty to forty is a simple reference to his own life as an adult artist, rather than some hopelessly obscure cabala. Among artists of the past, begun in their profession as children, this period – from the end of youth to the beginning of middle age – was most often the time of power, brilliance, and confident achievement. For Bacon, as for so many artists who have felt the weight of the past without being able to accept its formulas, it has been the time of a groping and lonely search for expression in an arid world ... shape without form, shadewithout color, paralysed force, gesture without motion ... 3


1 Cat. no. 1204. Oil on Canvas. Height 78 inches; width 54 inches. Acc. no. 55.353. Gift of Dr. William R. Valentiner, 1955.

2 Francis Bacon quoted in "The Anatomy of Horror" by Sam Hunter, p. 13, Magazine of Art, January, 1952.

From The Hollow Men by T. S. Eliot.



              STUDY FOR A NUDE by FRANCIS BACON, English (1910-) Gift of Dr. William R. Valentiner, 1955





Round the London Galleries






To some Mr. Francis Bacon is a highly gifted artist who misuses his talent in deliberate mystification and by his choice of preposterous, horrifying, and often repellent subjects. To others his view of the world as a place of obscure torments and inexplicable alarms is as original and interesting as one of Kafka's inventions; it maybe impossible to interpret his pictures with precision but each new glimpse of savagery or suffering, though seen only through a veil, has the effect of a disquieting truth. His new paintings at the Hanover Gallery include four large studies, as he himself calls them, of Van Gogh striding through the country to paint a landscape and here there are few signs of any wilful obscurity. It is true that in all four paintings Van Gogh's features, as so often in Mr. Bacon's figures, are blurred and out of focus as if in a photograph taken with a camera which has shifted, but the effect, strangely enough, is to make the image of a doomed and lunatic artist not less but more expressive. If anyone should have left a ghost behind him it is Van Gogh and it is fitting that in these pictures he should look like a vague and momentary apparition still recapitulating his intense emotional experiences at Arles. It is also noticeable that in these paintings Mr. Bacon has changed his technique; he now uses thick and juicy paint laid on with expressionist vigour, whereas his normal method, to be seen in other paintings in the exhibition, is to paint thinly on absorbent canvas.




In Camera





Men seated alone, wearing the vestments of a pope, or a dark suit and a white collar and the air of a politician or an executive: men of distinction; father-figures.

There are some to whom it is happening now, some who will be taken unawares, some who want to be ravished by disaster, some who struggle to push it away, some who wait and dream about their wreck, and some who are obsessed simply with holding themselves together.

Settings which are luxurious and simple: lush velvet curtains and a gilded armchair. Like prison-cells for highborn traitors.

One sits awkwardly on a bed as if in a hotel-room where there is nowhere else to sit. Others are confined in a glass case in the middle of a space as vast as a cathedral’s.

A seated pope the hem of whose white robe is bespattered with bloodreminiscence of an assassination when it bespattered the wedding-dress.

Privacy invaded, and the shadows of invisible observers thrown across the foreground. Somebody seen in a fleeting moment in a world without clocks. Their most usual grimace is a scream, or resembles a scream. Sometimes it seems likelier that they are laughing or shouting or raving or roaring, at other times certain that they are screaming, or trying to scream. It is still not certain whether a sound is actually uttered, and, if it is, whether it can be heard outside.

It is also possible that their mouths are open because they are trying to breathe.

Gestures like those of deaf mutes when they are talking among themselves: sudden, startling gestures which seem peculiarly emphatic, yet leave us wondering what they are about. Gestures, therefore, which confirm the isolation of those who make them. Not least because our instinct is to feel vaguely threatened by them.

When a figure is seen shouting or gesturing like a politician making a speech, we do not feel he is communicating with. attentive multitudes but rather that we have caught him rehearsing, his performance, sometimes under the delusion that it is the performance.

Men behaving as if they thought they were alone. Men behaving as if they thought they were not alone.

One of the popes is alone with a tasselled golden cord hanging from the ceiling. His right arm is raised, and bared to the elbow. He seems to have been amusing himself by making the cord swing to and fro like a pendulum.

Then there are those who have given up the pretence. These are discovered without clothes on, bent double like embryos in the performance of gymnastic rites, or pulling aside the curtains in order to get out, or squatting or crawling in jungle grass. They are often on view in this kind of vegetation in a glass case or cage.

When, which is rare, there is not one figure but two, the figures are naked and coupled, mounted on a bed, or dissolving in the tangled grass, or upright at a window. Relevance of the expression, having someone. And of the archaic I die.

A triptych of heads forming a sort of tragic strip culminates in an image of a broken man. But what conveys his absolute defeat? Something more than the bowed head on the pillow, the hunching of the shoulders, the wailing mouth, the hand lifted in grief, something more than the conventional miming of despair. It is how the paint is smeared across the features of the face.

The smearing means disintegration: the face is already "food for worms", the skull seen now "beneath the skin". The smearing means destruction: the face is wounded, shattered.

The smearing means obliteration: the face is obscured by the lifted hand, and the hand may be lifted in pain, or to ward off an attack, or to claw at nose and mouth and eyes as if in an effort to wipe them away, to rub out an identity.

The smearing means all this, but what these meanings involve conveys itself before there has been time to become aware of meanings. The meanings, all of them, lie in the paint, and they are in the paint not latenly but in the impact of the paint upon our senses, on our nerves.

Nothing in these paintings is more eloquent than the paint itself.

Paint that brings flesh into being and at the same time dissolves it. Paint whose fluidity conveys the fluidity of all it conveys.

And the vast empty spaces are like the silences of a great actor.

The paint is put on calmly, without violence or frenzy, for all the speed and spontaneity of execution. When Bacon is painting, his most characteristic gesture with the brush is a flick of the wrist made at arm’s length. Clearly he wants to distance himself from what he is painting, not to violate it. He detaches himself from his subject, declines to say where his sympathies lie, to impose his comment on the world he is making, and unmaking.

Violence threatened, implied, remembered, but never actual violence. Many of the heads are modelled on the head of the screaming nurse in Potemkin. From this image Bacon takes the scream--silent echo of the tragic screams of’ Oedipus and Laocoönand often the pince-neza mask. But he never reproduces the bullet-hole or the blood running down the face.

It is the portrait that concerns him, not the event: he does not show what happens, but to whom it happens. The facts of the disaster are withheld.




Plate I. Three Studies of the human head (detail of the third panel). 1953. Coll. : K.J. Hewett, Esq., London. Photo: Underwood, London.

Plate II. Study after Velasquez. 1951. Destroyed. Photo: Photo Studios, London.

Plate III. Stud2~ for a portrait. 1953-1955. Coll.: Hanover Gallery, London. Photo: Dumage, Paris.

Plate IV. Study for a the human figure. 1954. Coll. : Anthony Denney, Esq., London. Photo: Dumage, Paris.

Cover. Study after the life-mask of Blake (detail). 1955. Coll.: Mr.James Thrall Soby, New Canaan, Conn. Photo: Underwood, London.



                      Three Studies of the human head (detail of the third panel)1953. 










Mr. Francis Bacon, who is now in his late forties, has become one of the heroes of the hour. Spirited and temperamental, he has always been a law unto himself, as those who know him will attest; and he has chosen themes that will respond to his needs, irrespective of the conventions, pictorial or otherwise. Moreover, he is one of those artists who have the power of influencing their contemporaries, among others Mr. Sutherland and Mr. Louis La Brocquy.

Mr. Bacon's impact is largely due to the unusual nature of his themes. His ability to disturb is well maintained in the present fascinating exhibition at the Hanover Gallery which must be certainly examined by anyone eager to plumb the spirit of the day.


The curious tinge that colours so much of Mr. Bacon's subject matter indicates that he belongs to a specific artistic trend. His position in the art of our time is much easier to define once his work is placed in relation to that, say, of the Florentine Mannerists, Fuseli, Böcklin, Rops and Martini. In short, Mr. Bacon is the heir to the Romantic Agony, the ramifications of which during the 19th century were powerfully diagnosed by Professor Mario Praz in a remarkable volume. Once we accept the proposition that the most secret sides of human nature are grist to the mill, then the queerest of Mr. Bacon's themes can be accepted.

As a true Mannerist, Mr. Bacon favours shocking and "terrible" images. Whether or not they give off the requisite "frisson" largely depends upon the spectator's own susceptibilities: there are no rules in art, and there are no rules in appreciation. But for those who admire the noble and the harmonious and who shun the nightmare world of private tortures and perplexities, Mr. Bacon has nothing to offer, unless it be the confirmation of their wish to bask in the sun.

Mr. Bacon himself has often been impaled by a nagging dilemma; that of knowing how to say what he feels about life. And one could argue that he was most himself when most imprisoned by the pressures of his imagery: once out in the open, the mystery that lurks in any conundrum necessarily evaporates. His most telling pictures have been those in which the force of his obsessions has found not a clear literary but a tantalising artistic expressionism.

The ambiguity and complexity of his mind has often led himas it led Gustave Moreau before himto couch his sentiments in an oblique language. He has used metaphors and analogies, turning to the cinema too for some of his technical devices (as Mr. Sylvester once remarked); and he has taken the findings of one of the most restrained and refined masters of portraiture, Velasquez, as a springboard for his fantasies, as if, "Dadalike," intending to cock a snoot at tradition.

His involvement in his own myths and emotions and his concern for the immediate impact of his statements, whether direct or oblique, as the case may be, have on the whole induced him to neglect the possibilities of colourthe stuff of painting itself. He has played with muted tones and with combinations of whites and pinks, offset by black backgrounds, funereal in their evocations. Here one weakness is apparent in his work, his failure to impart visual quality to the whole span of canvas used; to peer close at the backgrounds of his pictures is to be met by a wall that does not give off any pleasure to the eyes and which, once dissociated from the image, possesses little meaning.

This reduction of the composition to one focal point of interest may well be intentional; but it certainly lessens the artistic value of the picture. Not that earlier artists have failed to present their images against uniform backgroundsbut with one difference; for the Dutch maters of the 17th century, for Whistler too, an empty space, composed of almost unique colours, became an exercise in tonal values existing in their own right.


Mr. Bacon is evidently aware of the limitations that mark many of his pictures; to use an analogy culled from the tables, he has staked so much on the "noir" that the "rouge" has been left to take care of itself; as a result the "rouge" has rarely, if ever, turned up. What is more, the significance of the "noir" (the image) has been lessened through familiarity; once the initial impact is digested one begins to question and even challenge, the means with which it has been secured.

His decision, therefore, to alter his approach and to espouse colour is comprehensible. In the series of studies for the Portrait of Van Gogh, the emphasis is placed on a lavish squeezing of coloursred, blues, yellowson to the canvas in order to endow the results with an effect reminiscent of Van Gogh, Soutine and the Expressionists. Yet does Mr. Bacon command the skill necessary to carry off his venture? It may be felt that the one quality which he did not possess, subtlety, has now departed. Again, his wisdom is presenting canvases that are "drafts" for a work in progress is debatable: the finished product would seem to require that degree of mediation which is surely absent from the studies.

Mr. Bacon's present style is a reflection of the problem facing many artists when one vein has been exploited to the full. In effect, his problem is to discover a means by which the shrill linearism of his early canvases can develope into full-blooded colourisma test that demands an exact eye. The final result when and if it comes may well disappoint those of his admirers to whom he has always seemed the poet, rather than the painter, of Anxiety. But his attempt to evolve will arouse the sympathy of those who, while respecting his usual themes, his evident feeling, his imagination even, have not been entirely convinced of his ability to handle paint itselfthe sure means of translating a cerebral image into a picture.











In the last ten years the name of Francis Bacon has come to stand for the most disquieting of living English artists The Royal Academy has not yet asked him to be one of its number; if it should ever do so, there might well be white faces at the private view, for Francis Bacon has invented in his painting a  demonology more appropriate to "The Revenger's Tragedy" than to the "Essays" of his first-Elizabethan namesake.

He was born in Dublin 47 years ago, but has no Irish blood (His father, an Englishman, happened to breed horses there.) No art-schooling, and indeed no schooling at all, to speak of, though his questing, imperious and unprejudiced intelligence would do honour to the most ancient Foundation.

Since 1927 he has lived all over the placein Berlin, where he first tasted that ferocious metropolitan life which has provided him with so much of his imagery; Monte Carlo, where the drama of the landscape accords with his predilection for the gambling room; and in London, where  he has a small flat in Battersea and leads an impulsive, open-handed, noctambular existence.

.  .  .

Nietzsche has always fired his imagination, and there is much in him of the energy that crackles through the brief unsettling maxims of "The Will to Power" Energy speaks in the acrobat's walk the downward pounce upon all that takes his fancy, and the gasp (for years he suffered grievously from asthma) that interrupts the tumultuous coherent sentence.

In his thirties he painted off and on, self-taught, "to see if he could do it," and in 1946 three "Studies for a Crucifixion" were put up, unannounced, in the Lefevre Gallery. Since then his every picture has made a stir, and his personagesthe after-Velasquez cardinals, the faceless Thing in the undergrowth, the demented man of business and the mongrel fog in the gutterhave become a part of modem legend.

.  .  .

This success he meets with an aristocratic disdain: "If I have another  ten years," he says, "I might get to be good." Nine-tenths of his production he destroys; and those who have sat for his idiosyncratic portraits report (and our photograph bears out) that the studio floor is deep in ephemeral printed matter; the enormous pictures, face to the wall, bear witness to the rage for work with which he completes a six foot square canvas at one session, and the ancient curtains are livid and crusty from his habit of wiping his paint filled hands upon them.

This week he leaves England to spend the summer in Tangiers. His object?  Nothing less than to paint, in his own terms, the history of the last thirty years."




                         Specially photographed for The Sunday Times by DOUGLAS GLASS









FRANCIS BACON, 48-year old British painter with the ghoulish brush, is being sued by a West End art gallery for breech of contract.

He has signed an agreement with a rival London gallery which will exhibit and sell his increasingly popular spine-chilling pictures.

Miss Erica Brauen, a director of the Hanover Gallery, said last night: “I've looked after Mr. Bacons interests for more than 10 years. I bought his first picture.

“Now he leaves a message with my secretary saying that he is taking his business elsewhere. I intend to sue him.

Admittedly there has been only a verbal contract between us. But I have organised exhibitions for him in Paris and Milan.




All that Mr. Bacon would say—on the telephone; he is known for his dislike of publicity and being photographed—was: I can't possibly discuss the matter because its all been taken out of my hands.

Mr. Harry Fischer, director of the Marlborough Gallery, in Argyll-street, Westminster, said: In all good faith I have signed an agreement with Mr. Bacon. The whole affair is now in the hands of our solicitors.

Ten years ago Francis Bacon was unknown. Today his paintings fetch as much as £1,000, and he has 10 hanging in the Tate Gallery.











Among the Tate Gallery's recent acquisitions is this interesting study of Van Gogh by the contemporary artist Francis Bacon (born 1910). 

It is one of a series which the painter undertook in 1957, inspired by Van Gogh's own pictures. This on bears very close resemblance to "The Painter on his Way to Work," which hangs in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum, Magdeburg.

Some of the series, including this work, were exhibited at the Hanover Gallery in March 1957. It has been presented, along with a cast by Eduardo Paolozzi, to the Tate Gallery by the Contemporary Art Society.








Round the London Art Galleries






There can be no doubt at all that Francis Bacon has artistic gifts of a high order. He can design with assurance in a large scale and his figures have breadth, firmness in their construction, and on occasion a remarkable vitality. But the use he makes of these gifts has almost always been equivocal and capricious. There is no telling, or if there is he certainly does not tell, why he should have chosen to paint such things as figures screaming behind a veil that distorts like a misused camera or a defective television screen, alarming travesties of Velasquez's portrait of Pope, or, in his present exhibition at the Marlborough Gallery, nudes of the most painful indignity.

There are grounds for suspecting frivolity; it is hard to think of any serious reason why one of his recent Popes should have a piece of raw meat placed on a metal frame in front of him, and certain arbitrary markings which appeared in some of his past canvases were, it is said, suggested by the way a television set behaves when a motor-car goes by. But there is also some possibility that in the dream-like images he creates there is some important though extremely obscure message, something about modern civilization, it may be, or a stirring of the unconscious mind expressed in some symbol which may validity for others as well as for the individual who conceived it.

This obscurity has no doubt helped Bacon towards the international reputation he is now beginning to gain. For an artist to succeed in the rather mad world of Biennales where speculators and mystagogues walk hand in hand, it is absolutely essential to avoid anything like a universal, direct, or readily comprehensible appeal. Unless the talent is hidden under a bushel, it cannot, the speculators seems to argue, be worth the finding; for so, since Cézanne, it has always been in the past. Bacon's talent is of a kind that might enable him to create a humane and rational art but fortunately for his reputation there is a great cloud of morbidity and mystification hanging about his work. As Robert Melville put it, in the preface he wrote for a British Council exhibition of Bacon's paintings, he 'might be said to have covered the lampshades of his predecessors with human skin'. Just what is wanted for the export trade.

In this new and important exhibition of thirty-two paintings at the Marlborough Gallery, Bacon is certainly not so difficult, though often quite as unpleasant, as he has been in the past. Only one figure, the first in the catalogue and perhaps the earliest to be painted, is seen through one of the familiar veils, a sort of transparent curtain. The rest are now fully exposed, clearly defined and firmly modelled; it is as if the freaks were now horrible enough to be shown without adventitious trappings to enhance the spectator's fears and revulsions. The new figures, more especially the nudes but also some of the grotesque heads, seem to be an exposure of the deformity of the human animal in a state of civilization, in some ways a good deal more disquieting than all the hints of cruelty and beastliness which the artist has let slip in the past. But at the same time this unveiling, this more straightforward approach, has led to a great artistic gain; the powerful modelling, sometimes rather like that of Daumier, is extremely impressive now that is clearly revealed. Here and there one even has the impression, in some of the less cruelly observed heads, the 'Head of a Man No.2', for example, or the 'Head of a Woman' (No. 21 in the catalogue), that Bacon has forgotten all about his sinister imagination and has painted, extremely well, as if he really found painting much more interesting than getting ideas for horror films.




               'Head of a Man' by Francis Bacon: from the exhibition at the Marlborough Gallery, 17-18 Old Bond Street











THE most expensive and most discussed painting among those for sale at this years Irish Exhibition of Living Art at the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery, Stranmillis, is priced at £1,380.

The work of Dublin-born Francis Bacon, who now lives and works in London, the painting has aroused considerable comment from viewers at the exhibition.

“Grotesque,” “Pathetic,” “A monstrosity,” “I wouldn’t give it house room,” are just a few of the remarks overheard on a recent visit to the gallery.

The speakers were pupils of the senior year art class at Methodist College, Belfast, a group of earnest young boys and girls who arrived at the museum, notebooks and pencils in hand, to do the exhibition thoroughly.

The reason for their visit?

“We have to write an essay on our impression of the exhibition for our art class,” 16-year-old Trevor Scott explained.

“Well have two periods to write the essayunless we get it to do for homework,” another member of the class commented.

The groups feelings about Francis Bacons Seated Figure No.2 were unanimousnot one of them like the painting.

The price astounded them. Who would pay so much for a picture like that?

I wouldnt mind buying one or two of the paintings here, but I wouldnt give anything at all for that one” Trevor Scott said.



                                The £1,380 question

        This is the painting which has been the cause of arguments





Art: On Action Painting



Diverse Sampling of This Style on View at Martha Jacksons






NOW that action painting has become deliberate, popular style, we need no longer look at it as a manifestation of the unconscious mind, as was the fashion a decade ago. It has come to be as consciously adopted as any other historical style. The question is, just how good at it is this or that artist?

Some of the best international contemporary artists of this persuasion are showing work at the Martha Jackson Gallery, 32 East Sixty-ninth Street.

Strong individualists all, these men do not paint alike. Whereas the Englishman, William Scott, is slow and deliberate; the Frenchman, Georges Mathieu, effervescent; the Spaniard, Antoni Tàpies, austere and withdrawn, the American, Larry Rivers, rests on the laurels of a confident vigor of attack, in his pictures here, on imagery with strong erotic suggestiveness.


There remains the most interesting and brilliantly painted picture here, Francis Bacon’s “Red Cardinal”, the latest in a series by this Vibert of our neurotic era. This is less alarming than earlier characterizations. The pose is almost coquettish; the Jimmy Durante-like nose glistens with red and green highlights, and the subject wears his soutane as if it were a Spanish shawl. However, Mr. Bacon carries the whole thing off with astonishing verve.



                        “Red Cardinal,” by Francis Bacon, at the Martha Jackson












THE retrospective show of the work of Francis Bacon at the Nottingham University Art Gallery is one of the most rewarding of several outstanding exhibitions now in the provinces. It continues until March 12.

Francis Bacon is an artist who has evolved slowly but with what, in retrospect, appears to be inexorable logic. His sincerity has never been in doubt, and even his failures, and he has had many, have enlisted our respect.



Much of his painting has an obsessive, nightmarish quality. In addition, as I have said before, there is something disconcertingly negative about many of his more recent pictures.

He expresses the uncertainties of our age and the waning influence of long cherished values much more effectively than do the pretentious young abstract painters and sculptors now exhibiting in the "Young Contemporaries" exhibition.



This in itself is no negligible achievement, but it is by no means all he has done. The more I see of his work the more considerable it appears to me: in pictures such as "Two Figures in a Room," painted last year, there is a challenging attempt to resolve old problems in a novel way.

Bacon tells us much of human emotions and human flesh of one kind. If he were also to convey to us an intimation of human dignity he might, I believe, achieve as much as any artist alive.




Francis Bacon at Nottingham


      STEPHEN SPENDER on an exciting modern painter





THE RETROSPECTIVE EXHIBITION of thirty-four paintings by Francis Bacon, shown in the spacious and well-lit gallery at the Nottingham University Department of Fine Art*, has too few early, and too many late, paintings to give a balanced view of his development. But the pictures, coming mostly from the collections of Mrs. James Bomford and Mr. Robert Sainsbury, are striking examples; and, away from the controversial atmosphere of London, it is possible to consider this exciting painter almost calmly.

Precautions have to be taken in estimating the work of artists who shock: and undoubtedly Bacon does this. When we are shocked, we are likely to feel that the artist exaggerates, and to react to this by exaggerating also and regarding him as more isolated than he really is. Many paintings which seemed ugly when they were painted, perhaps because the artist depicted the ugliest aspects of modern life, today, when those circumstances are past history, seem to us beautiful. Toulouse-Lautrec's paintings of whores, which his contemporaries thought repulsive, are like this. On the other hand some statements about life go on shocking us with their brutal exposure of the human condition: for example, Goya's studies of the disasters of war.

To judge calmly one has to consider how the painting is done, and what it is about. Each of Bacon's paintings, though painted rapidly, is an extremely calculated campaign by a masterly strategist who knows exactly how to deploy his forces and organize them. His victories are those pictures in which he succeeds in focusing, and leaving out of focus, different parts of an image, to express the conflict between forces of integration and disintegration. Working on his unprimed canvas, the largest areas of his paintings consist nearly always of thin paint of a colour that seems as garish as neon lighting, and which has the effect often of dye soaked into sacking. The 'worked on' part of the picture occupies a comparatively small area, which, by contrast with the merely coloured-in areas, seems far more thickly painted than is really the case, very opaque, and with a quality almost of plaster of Paris. By the bold decisive handling of these dry surfaces, Bacon creates an image set like a medallion against the flat, undifferentiated, crudely dramatised background.

One result of this treatment is that the technical means which he deploys, though highly individual, seem curiously depersonalized, deliberately and mockingly mechanical. The grass in 'Study for a Portrait of Van Gogh No. 1' consist simply of repeated hook-shaped strokes of emerald green. There is extraordinary observation in Bacon's paintings, but it is as sparing as his other devices, concentrated, pin-pointed, directed for dramatic effect, to make the kind of comment which is conveyed by the glint on a man's spectacles, the gleam of false teeth. Again the observation is often indirect, seen as it were at second-hand, and, finally, filtered through ironic self-mockery. The dog in 'Study of a Dog' is vividly canine but we are not sure whether it is an animal we are seeing, or the artist's vision of a dog as an object 'caught' in the 1/500th-of-a-second shot of a high-speed lens. Van Gogh interpreted Millet as seen by Van Gogh: but Francis Bacon makes a picture of how the contemporaries he portrays, staring from behind their spectacles and snarling through their teeth, would see Van Gogh.

To call him 'traditional' because, in his merciless idiom, he paraphrases the Cardinals of Velasquez, whom he admires, seems to me misleading. For tradition consists of continuity. For a contemporary to interpret a past work entirely in the terms of his own contemporary way of seeing things, depriving it of its penumbrum of pastness, emphatically indicates that continuity is impossible, that everything from the past, to be understood, has to be totally transmuted into the present, made part of the contemporary scene. Francis Bacon is not, of course, free of 'influences'; but in his attitude to Velasquez and Van Gogh he seems to be more influencing or interpreting our vision of the masters he admires than he is influenced by them.

His extraordinary convincingness is that he paints us not as we would like to see ourselves, but as organisms distorted in our physiognomy and behaviour by the visual world of machinery in which we are trapped. He paints the business tycoon as we might expect his desk or his telephone to see him; a patient as he might appear from the point of view of the psycho-analyst's couch. And this is how we really are. After visiting a Bacon exhibition, one observes one's fellow passengers in tube-train or lift with opened eyes: and then catches a glimpse of oneself, one of them, reflected in a window or fogged and lipstick-smeared looking-glass.

Bacon depicts man the result of man-made inhuman circumstances, therefore self-dehumanized. His figures are the ultimate contemporaries: cut off from the past, or only able to see it through their distorting lenses of the present, incapable of hope for the future. Instantaneous exposure becomes the way of seeing life insulated within the moment, an aesthetic of anti-aestheticism, a Weltanschauung.

The risk that Francis Bacon runs is, inevitably, of his pictures proving as inescapably imprisoned in their moment as are his men and women. But two early pictures, 'Crucifixion' (1931) and 'Golgotha' (1932), crude as they are,  point to a theme which unites all his work and gives it force which is beyond the contemporary. The theme is the crucifixion. Taking a hint perhaps from the crucifixion itself, Bacon paints not Christ but Barabbas crucified; and not just Barabbas, but the high priest crucified, Pontius Pilate crucified, the artist crucified.

There is certainly much hatred and disgust in these anti-sentimental , anti-aesthetic, anti-painting pictures. But there is also religious feeling. What is in doubt is whether there is love. Fifty years from now people will be able to decide this more assuredly than we can now. But meanwhile we ought to give this agonizingly honest portrayer of himself and ourselves the benefit of the doubt. For, at the very least, there is a great deal about ourselves and our world that we may learn from his art.

* Open until March 12




        'Arab Carrying a Child', by Francis Bacon: from the exhibition at Nottingham University Art Gallery




Impressionists Had Eye Disease Doctor





A BRITISH ophthalmologist said in Toronto that eye diseases have been proved the cause of distortions of colour and form by some artists.

In an after-dinner speech at the University of Toronto, he showed a slide of a brown landscape by Constable and suggested the artist was partially red-green blind.

He said it was found in 1933 that the famous modern painter, Leger, had red-green colour blindness. Most impressionists suffered from some ailment which may have caused them to believe ardently in the truth of their indefinite landscapes, he said.

Francis Bacon, the contemporary English painter, destroyed several early works after he found he had a marked horizontal astigmatism.

He corrected the defect with glasses and continued to paint.




'Distort into Reality'





"I'm trying to paint the track left by human beings—like the slime left by snails." Francis Bacon says this evenly, not trying to shock, but not joking either. His canvases seem to many to be ghastly views into torment, half-decomposed portraits of things better left unpictured. But no one denies their power: put up last week in a big show at the Tate Gallery, they hit London like a slap in the face with a hunk of raw meat.

The man who was once dismissed as a refugee from the Grand Guignol is now widely considered to be Britain's most exciting painter. At 52, Bacon deserves his success, for he has resisted every trend and fashion in art to hack out a path all his own. Though shaped by such old masters as Rembrandt, Daumier and Velasquez ("He haunts me so much I can't let him go"), he has been as much influenced by the here and now of the photograph as by anything else. War, terrorism, gory accidents—these fleeting instants of agony fascinate Bacon. His torn and dislocated figures often seem about to vanish or disintegrate. In a Bacon painting, the body is temporary; only the torment remains.

Into the Dustbin. In real life, Bacon is as mysterious as he is on canvas. Keeping one step ahead of the landlord, he has moved about so much that the London art world is never quite sure where he can be found. A compulsive perfectionist, he has always destroyed more of his paintings than he has finished. A few years ago, he would merely dump them into the dustbin, but when he found that light-fingered admirers were rescuing and even selling them (one recently brought $2,800), he began slashing them with a razor. "I usually like a canvas when I finish it," he says. "But the more I look at it, the more dissatisfied I become. If somebody doesn't take it away from me within a few days, I will probably destroy it."

The 90 paintings at the Tate—about half of Bacon's undestroyed output—range from his famous screaming Popes and moldering businessmen to lumpish, bloated creatures that may huddle in the corner of a room, sprawl across a couch, or simply stare dumbly out of some indeterminate space. They are often close to being monsters, and sometimes they become great mounds of viscera. Bacon admits to being obsessed by death. "I look at a chop on a plate, and it means death to me," he says.

Beauty Is Violence. But the subject of his paintings is really life in a world in which beauty and violence are synonymous. He often places his figures in boxlike cages, but this is only to "isolate these figures so you can see them more clearly." The whole purpose is "to distort into reality. I distort to bring the reality of the object violently forward."

Though Bacon uses many of the instinctual techniques of the action painters, he does not like abstract art. "Man gets tired of decoration. Man is obsessed with himself." Few artists have more powerfully expressed on canvas the basic fact about man: that physically, at least, he is always dying, and that this is the great drama of his life. "I would like some day," says Bacon, "to trap a moment of life in its full violence, its full beauty. That would be the ultimate painting."





Mirror of his age







Horrifying, terrifying, shocking, nauseating, grisly, menacing, brutal, cruel, squalid, ugly, nightmarish, disgusting, hellish, sado-masochistic, amoral, blood-chilling, horrible....

This is not, as you might imagine, a selection from Roget's Thesaurus headed "Unpleasurableness" or "Fear." Nor is it a quotation from a publicity handout for the latest horror film. It is simply a list of some of the adjectives used by art critics in praise of Francis Bacon's big retrospective exhibition now at the Tate.

Clearly we have come a long way from the time when a work of art was expected by art critics to be beautiful. But there remains a vast majority of people to whom, as Sir Herbert Read has pointed out, "the purpose of art, which is the communication of feeling, is inextricably confused with the quality of beauty...." No artist alive today is more able than Francis Bacon to separate this majority from the minority.

If we accept the Read definition, there can be no doubt that Bacon is an artist. And if an artist's stature is in direct proportion to the degree of feeling (irrespective of its nature) that he arouses, then Bacon is a great artist. But is he? And, if so, how great? Is he, for instance, the equal of Grünwald? Or is he of no more lasting importance than the director of the latest "spine-chiller?"

Trying to answer these questions I am continually confused by the conflict existing between extravagant claims made for him by his more fervent admirers and the "throwaway" nature of his own comments on his own work. When I asked him if he deliberately set out to horrify he replied that he considered his pictures to be happy pictures. When Sir John Rothenstein asked whether the carcasses of meat hanging behind the figure in one of his "Pope" pictures represented some sort of relation between an aspect of spirituality and of carnality, Bacon told him that as a boy he was fascinated by butchers' shops.

So for me, at the moment, the truth about Bacon lies midway between the accusations of Grand Guignol and creaking melodrama made against him years ago and Sir John's belief that "There is a sense in which to look at a painting by Bacon is to look into a mirror, and to see there our own afflictions and out fears of solitude, failure, humiliation, old age, death and of nameless threatened catastrophe."

But although these pictures could have been painted only in this age of the concentration camp, it is altogether to sanguine to believe that they may act in some measure as a deterrent to further atrocities.  In fact it is certain that psychologists could argue just as logically that they are likely to incite men to acts of sadism.

It would be comforting to think that the artist's mind was filled with humanitarian ideas when he painted these pictures and that these ideas or feelings will be conveyed to the majority of people see them, but it would be false comfort. According to Sir John in his introduction to the catalogue:

"The types of Bacon's feelings are manifestly tragic (he told me that he cannot recall a day when he did not think of his death.")

To think constantly of one's own death, however, is not tragedy but morbidity, and here I think we have the key to Bacon's art. It is an art in which (I quote critic David Carritt) "the only psychological insight ... is into his own troubled, obsession-ridden mind."

If he is successful in expressing it, an artist's obsessive concern with is own Id is bound to produce original and probably unique art. A genuinely unique artist, Bacon cannot fail to stand out above the great mass of his contemporaries who, at a time when uniqueness is prized above all other qualities, strive after it desperately but produce only trivial innovations.







Painter with eye to realities





ANY doubts that Francis Bacon is one of the most considerable of living artists are dispelled by the Retrospective Exhibition of his work at the Tate Gallery. It is open from to-day until July 1.

Few contemporary painters can provide an exhibition of 90, mainly large, paintings with their reputations untarnished. Francis Bacon does more than survive. He emerges not only as the creator of haunting images, but also as a master of his craft.

What no one should imagine is that he is the kind of craftsman who brings easy pleasure by creating an illusion of the everyday world. Bacon is not concerned with illusions. He is concerned with reality, not the comforting reality of familiar appearances, but the harsh facts of an age living in fear.

Bacon's work shocks. As we move from one obsessive image to another we find no comfort, only a chilling reminder of mankind adrift. It is this that makes his work so profoundly disquieting.




He is concerned not so much with the shadow of physical destruction and the erosion of institutions, as with the chill in the heart of men. His theme is the emptiness that always haunts man. It is this that gives his work a relevance beyond concrete fears of the moment.

Whether he is painting a series of pictures with a Pope, or  a figure in a hotel bedroom, as the ostensible theme, he is concerned, on the one hand with the universal fears and, on the other, with the purely sensuous impact he can achieve with oil paint. The one somehow enhances the effect of the other.




The suspicion that if he wanted to, Bacon could bestow simple delights, makes the impact of his work the ore devastating. The haunted figure of Van Gogh and the twisted, misshapen creatures cowering before their own fear, shame our pleasure in colour and the manipulation of paint.

Bacon has produced many failures, although I know of no painter whose failures interest me as much. His latest works are statements horrifyingly complete in themselves.

I do not know if his three large studies for a Crucifixion can move men in a positive sense. I think they can, for they are one of the most complete statements, unrelieved by sentiment or any kind of concession, of the horror that so often paralyses man of our time.




      One of a series of studies of a Pope by Francis Bacon from his Retrospective Exhibition at the Tate Gallery.




The Horrific Vision of Mr. Francis Bacon






In the heat of the moment—and perhaps there is on other valid way of discussing Mr. Francis Bacon's paintings: it belongs absolutely to the moment—one can think of no experience quite comparable to the Tate Gallery's retrospective exhibition of this artist (opening there today, admission free) except possibly one's first encounter with the late paintings of Goya in the Prado.

The emotional shock is extraordinary, because it is so instantaneous and at the same time complex and contradictory. This is black night of twentieth century soul, images of man which are terrifying, violent and at times bestial. Yet they are royal, and proud, and silent. No other painter of our day—and for once the phrase can be left as it stands, without worrying about the word "British"—could make these five large galleries look so nearly like an exhibition by an old master, yet leave one in no doubt that here, flashed on the canvas like one of the startling news-photos or cinematic images from which the paintings so often derive, is the cry of agony of our own age, an age which has lost its faith.

Hence, presumably, the recurrent obsession with images of the Crucifixion and of the head of the Roman Church, the leader of the faithful—both mercilessly mocked and tortured and made to scream  as though being challenged to yield some answer to the spirit (as the Sphinx will never do) which can resist, or not be reduced to, the pain and the ignominy of the flesh. Bacon's figures are essentially flesh (the quality of his paint and brushstrokes render it with something of the same morbid sensitivity as Soutine's) And sometimes, shockingly, the flesh is merely beef, carcases which hang behind the Pope himself, appear in the left-hand panel of the recently finished scarlet and orange triptych and turn back into mangled, bloody flesh in its terrifying central panel,  which looks as though it has been  ripped down the middle by a machine-gun. This violence of despair, this pitiable  ludicrousness of the body, does not belong to Kafka's world, with which Bacon has been compared. But it is very near the cruel ruthlessness of Sartre's blackest Existentialist writings, and of Camus's conception of the absurd (Bacon's occasional references to a North African landscape in his paintings of the Sphinx and a dog are like the Algerian setting to Camus's novels).


The general relevance of such imagery to the postwar world (and Bacon, cosmopolitan and a traveller by nature could never be comfortably insular in his outlook) can hardly be questioned. Its precise interpretation must necessarily be left vague, and is perhaps impossible: the artist himself has always studiously evaded questions about it. There is, nevertheless, more factual information both about him and the paintings in Sir John Rothenstein's and Mr. Ronald Alley's contributions to the catalogue of this exhibition than has ever been available before (including the correct date of his birth). And the exhibition itself, while hardly making the images any less equivocal, helps to relate the ostensible changes of subject to one another within a ruthlessly consistent and obsessive vision, and to relate the vision to the brilliant qualities of the painter pure and simple. The one aberation that seems to standout at the Tate is—apart from the first variation, slightly earlier than the rest—the Van Gogh series, which shows uncharacteristic marks of strain and even coarseness.

Nearly all the postwar paintings appear to have been destroyed, including the geometric abstracts of the 1930s of which some record survives in photographs. The real achievement is wholly postwar, surveyed here in some 90 pictures starting to all intents and purposes with the Tate's own "Three Studies for a Crucifixion" and ending with the extraordinary, large triptych which bears, bafflingly enough in view of the apparent implications of the imagery, the same title. Apart from the recurrence or elaboration of familiar motifs—the glass cage, the diaphanous curtain,, the gold rails, the tasselled blinds—and the progression of subjects—ghostly nudes, the dog, the Popes, the heads of Blake, the "business executives", the recent portraits and figures on divans—the most striking development is one of visualization: from mystery to clarity, impenetrable midnight-blues to heraldic colours, blurred images to strange, distorted silhouettes of an almost Munch-like character.

The technical bravura with which this is effected, and the utter originality of the results, not only provide a surer guarantee than has sometimes appeared probable that the effectiveness of the imagery will retain its power: they also, quite simply, make this the most stunning exhibition by a living British painter there has been since the war.









It would be both unwise and unjust to write briefly about the retrospective exhibition of work by Francis Bacon at the Tate Gallery.  It contains 90 paintings (nearly half of his surviving works: but by no means half of what he has painted during the past 30 years, for he is a ruthless destroyer of his own pictures).  Of course one thought one knew what to expect, and after a few minutes spent hastily surveying the five speciously hung  rooms, ones expectations were confirmed.  The impact is immediately shattering and becomes more so as one follows the roughly chronological sequence from 1944 (when, after a hiatus of seven years, he resumed painting) to the present day.  The usual adjectives - "nightmarish," "melodramatic," "cruel," "haunting," - are not inappropriate but they are only superficially true and as descriptions of the cumulative effect of the exhibition. After the first few minutes has been expanded to half an hour, they become inadequate. Buried under the surface levels of these often horrific and sometimes repellent images are deeper levels, equally disturbing but more worth analysing, and not until one can come to grips with them does the exhibition become serious and cease to be merely sensational.

Clearly Bacon has obsessions and clearly he has discovered a set of effective means (one could almost call them "tricks") for making them visually effective.  The image of a pope's head borrowed from a famous portrait by Velasquez, spotlighted against an impenetrable black void: the tendency of this august figure to open its mouth in a Grand Guinol scream: the frequency with which that same figure finds itself cut off from the world of normality by  seeming to be encased in a transparent glass cage which has the odd effect of making the scream more agonising because inaudible. These nightmarish devises are now familiar enough. Bacon's later paintings show that he has grown out of them and in any case the effect of the spectator of such shock-tactics diminishes with familiarity. The scream in the dark loses its terror with repetition.

But what one eventually discovers is that even though Bacon is not averse to melodramatic tricks they do not contain his essence.

That essence is an uninhibited fearlessness, an unquestioning acceptance of the imagery offered to him by the deepest recesses of his unconscious mind.  Most of us are apt to recoil from such images, having been taught that they are secrets not to be shared with the would and hardly to be admitted to ourselves. But in Bacon himself there is obviously no such recoil.  His conscious process (and they are, after all, the tools without which he could not be a painter at all) do not exercise any censorship on what comes up from the depths. There has probably never been an artist so utterly unafraid of himself. And that fearlessness we must learn to accept and share before we can make sense of what could easily be mistaken for a chamber of horrors.

Bacon is a self-taught painter but that does not prevent him from being a masterly painter.  He is even a masterly illusionist. The texture of flesh is something that is no more difficult for him to render than it was for Courbet or Rubens. And that is his ultimate secret, for no sooner has he presented us with the convincingly painted illusion, so that we believe in it, optically, then he defaces it, as though he were mocking our belief.  The flesh becomes ambiguous and ghostly; it becomes ectoplasm as we watch it. Bones become jelly, bodies become alarmingly vulnerable, belief gives way to doubt.

Partly again, this is the result of another trick. Bacon delights in accepting the camera's account of an undignified moment in time when a face is distorted because it happens to be chewing a sandwich, or limbs become ungraceful because they are collapsing on to a chair.  The snapshot often presents us with these momentary absurdities and we accepts them just because they are momentary.  But remove them from their context in time and make them permanent, as Bacon invariably does, and they become grotesque. They take on new meanings.  A queer misalliance takes place between the seen fact and the subconscious symbol.

This, as far as I know, has never happened in art before. Occasionally a misericord seat in a Gothic Choir stall hints at it, but always as a secret assertion that the grotesque is also a part of life.  For Bacon, one might think, it is almost the whole of life. Once we have lost the shame that turns a fact into a secret, the no holds are barred. Beauty, to put it bluntly, has been killed by truth.

Yet beauty is there throughout. A casual, distant glance into any of the five rooms in which these pictures hang, reveals shapes that are noble in themselves and are nobly placed on the canvas, and colour schemes that are, in themselves, enchanting. It is only when we begin to examine them for subject matter, as though they were the products of the mid-nineteenth century, that one begins to experience the frisson that is Bacon's special gift.




                        Red Pope on a Dais, 1962, by Francis Bacon





Titian Crossed With Tussaud





WHEN imagery, as such, is everywhere degraded there is something enormously grand and consequential about the achievement of a painter who can pursue the image into the far depths of its degradation and come back with pictures that have a timeless, Old Masterly look and the impact of a hammer on the anvil.

This is what Francis Bacon has done, at the Tate, in one of the most extraordinary exhibitions ever held there. Pictures that, individually, were called “melodramatic,”  “nightmarish,”  “abnormal,”  “Grand Guignolesque,” here form up into a coherent Pantheon, in which Tussaud is crossed with Titian. People still use those four adjectivesabove all, of this year's “Three Studies for a Crucifixion,—rather than face the fact that there are human beings who would go and gloat at the base of a crucifixion; but to me Bacon's figures represent that sort of person with just that poetic distortion which brings home his (or her) full obscenity.

FOR Bacon's is not fundamentally an art of exaggeration: it is the exaggerations in ourselves, or in our neighbours, which we dread to recognise. Bacon's art reveals to us, often for the first time, and with the impact of prophecy, the true nature of the world we live in. Nature has now caught up with that art, but already in the early 1950s Bacon was showing us Salan at the microphone and Eichmann in his glassed-in bullet-proof box. It seemed, then,  an art of inquisitiveness, for which nothing was private, nothing taboo: but who are we to complain of that, who have since demanded that a man be photographed for our distraction as he risked his life in an astronaut's capsule?

It was in defence of themselves that people unified the effect of Bacon's pictures. His characters remain ambiguous; as to which is victim and which inquisitor, argument continues; and when they have their mouths open it was decided that they must be screaming—or that, at the least, what they are saying is the terrible and meaningful nonsense that Beckett wrote for the slave's outburst in “Waiting for Godot.”  

This maybe a mis-reading. With time, these figures, once so sinister-seeming and so cryptic, have become the affable familiars of the company report, the election meeting, the public relations party and the television commercial. These once inscrutable monsters are our governors, providers, elucidators, favourites, friends. We and they are interchangeable: he would be rash who counted on exemption.

And are the events which Bacon sets before us more dreadful than those of which we read every day in the newspapers? Ask the little girl who was blinded in Paris by the O.A.S. In 1950 it seemed “brutal” and “exaggerated” to suggest that men will drive on in their big new motors while a man hangs dying in slow agony and a dog stands poised to sniff the living meat. Today we know better.

BUT of course Bacon could have had these prophetic intimations and not been an important painter. What saves him from sensationalism is the paradoxical dignity of the image, the instinct of grandeur which makes these pictures“tell” at twenty yards, the candour which has rightly been called “royal.” Half-close your eyes in any of these rooms, and you might think yourself in today's variant of the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor. But Bacon is beyond compounding with the present, even if his audience is not. He could wrap it up; but he has seen, read, travelled and above all felt too much and too clearly. He never touts for our approval.

Of the background to all this, and above all of Bacon's use of Muybridge's eighty-year-old “Human Figures in Motion,” much can be learnt from the excellent catalogue for which John Rothenstein and Ronald Alley are responsible. Entrance is free, as it should be, and the show is open till July 1.













In a back-street behind Piccadilly, a man may sometimes be encountered wearing a huge pair of sun-glasses, grey flannel coat, tight trousers, grey flannel shirt, and black tie. He walks rapidly into the darkness. He has cropped hair, a round puffy face and looks about 35. He is in fact in his early fifties
his conquest of age at once gives him a slightly spooky, Dorian Gray qualityand he is the painter, Francis Bacon.

For the next five weeks, the Tate Gallery is paying Bacon the tribute of a big retrospective exhibition of his work. Bacon may remain in London for the occasion, or not. He is a man of whom, most people, his friends included, catch only occasional glimpses.

In the past few years, there has been a Bacon boom. His pictures have changed hands for £3,000. In this country he is about the only English painter who excites art students. Abroad, there is more interest in Bacon than in any other British artist.

Soundless scream

His paintings, even when they are simply lampoons, are unlike those of anyone else alive. He is, indeed, a freak. He uses the back of the canvas; he is wholly untaught. His best-known series—the outcome of an obsession with Velasquez—features a richly dressed prelate whose mouth is opened in a soundless scream.

Bacon once said he was trying to paint the track left by human beings—like the slime left by a snail. The shapes appear transient and out of focus, like the figures in a dream remembered at the moment of awakening.

The human beings in Bacon pictures seem half-animal, or half reptilian. Sometimes they have the whiteness of death; sometimes they are white and red, like joints of meat. Some see to be dying, or liquefying. Almost all of them display people at moments of extreme stress, whether of passion, isolation, or despair. One senses Bacon's fascinated interest in corruption.

During the last Bacon show one visitor remarked that he had never felt so close to the presence of evil . Evil or not, few people will visit the Tate without being stunned by Bacon's tremendous power to convey the underworld of tension and sufferinghumanity with the lid off.

Bacon paints without any reference to current convention and he lives as he paints. He dresses anyhow and lives anywhere. He has largely dodged all the usual Institutions—school, marriage, community, family, armed forces, job. He has no interest in money, except for gambling and champagne.

Yet if he does not fit into ordinary society he is by no means a rebel. He finds the world of criminals more interesting than the world of normal people—but nevertheless, on his best behaviour, he would give no hostess anxiety about his performance at her dinner table. His manner is unformidable, gentle and unaffected. He is a good talker, bubbling, funny, friendly, gesticulating elegantly with strong, plump forearms.

 One of Bacon's strong points, arising from his isolation, is that he could never be corrupted by success. The Tate exhibition will leave him cold. If he were rich, he says, he would not only never show his pictures, he would very rarely even bother to finish them. As it is, using a razor, he often destroys them.

Grin without cat

Bacon is an articulate, sophisticated highbrow character, but he does not think there is much point in talking about his work on the principal enunciated by Pavlova that “if I knew why I danced I wouldn’t dance.” He says, however, that his starting point is always his own nervous system: “I always want to record a face or a body, and I want to do it as near my own feelings as possible. It’s the exact opposite of abstract painting.

There are two central things he is trying to do. First, he is trying to catch the grin without the cat—to catch the sensation of a human presence and its flavour, whether menacing or desperate, without having to create the full physical density of the body. Secondly, he wants to show people in extreme situations. He would say that day-to-day behaviour is of no importance; the real test is what happens in situations of crisis.

English Arab

These two ideas are pure Bacon. His other aims are more usual. He wants to make the animal come through the human being; and he wants the paint itself to carry its own implications (in the same way that a poem can produce meanings that the poet did not expect).

“Oil painting is incredibly strange and difficult,” he says. “There’s an enormous element of chance about just the turn of the brush. In the actual process of painting, the thing you really want to do slips through.

In the seedier Mediterranean countries, Bacon has noticed how Arab children, left to fend for themselves without any rules imposed from above, become miraculously uninhibited and adept at getting by. Bacon is an English Arab.

His father, when Francis was born in 1909, had retired from the army and gone to Ireland to train racehorses on his wife’s money. A bad asthmatic as a child, Francis was allergic to horses. His father was allergic to education. Francis, so far as he can recall, had only one years formal education in his life—at Dean Close, Cheltenham, where his father, having abandoned Ireland, was enjoying his second retirement.

At 16, with his family’s consent, and on a minute allowance, Bacon left home and moved to London. He spent the next years travelling and getting by with a string of odd jobs. He worked in a Lyons restaurant, as a valet and as an interior decorator. He started to paint occasionally and, with the coming of the war, regularly. Whereas most people found the war reasonably occupying, Bacon had more time on his hands than ever before. He was unfit for the Army, so he joined Civil Defence. But living in dormitories did not suit his asthma and he eventually left.

So he painted. He met Graham Sutherland, who generously helped and encouraged him, and by the end of the war he had acquired a small following. Since then, his reputation has steadily expanded.

In middle-age, neither fame nor money has caused Bacon to change his unsettled way of life. He moves constantly, often in the direction of the Mediterranean, where he especially likes the cities by the sea, and especially those with facilities for gambling.

Taste for gambling  

Other painters gamble, but none so serious as Francis Bacon. The two activities are not so separate as one might think. Both (for Bacon) are matters of chance and both stretch his nervous system to the limit. At Monte Carlo not long ago he had some big wins, then lost everything. Afterwards he said the same thing sometimes happened with his painting—greed caused him to take a risk beyond his powers.

The spasmodic disarray of  Bacon’s way of life is reflected in his studios. One of his longest stays recently was in a Battersea flat. The Bacon workshop there was what the architect had intended as a smallish front bedroom. The place looked as though a dustman has stacked a lorry with oddments—canvases, easels, bunches of old paintbrushes, broken crockery, an abandoned chest of drawers, a heap of books, torn newspapers and a pile of old copies of Paris-Matchand dumped the lot into the room through the roof. Bacon uses saucers to mix his paints, and wipes his hands on the curtains.

Images of man

Most of his pictures are big, and he often does not see them properly until someone else hangs them up in a much larger room. By that time he has long since lost interest.

One might say even that Francis Bacon is not fundamentally interested in art at all, though he greatly admires some of the old masters, such as Velasquez and Rembrandt. He prefers life to art—especially, he once said, the life of the gutter. Yet he sees life itself, now that his religion is dead, as nothing but a brief, empty interval between life and death. So for Bacon the only thing that has any permanent value at all, the only thing that can last, are the marks made by the artist. In his painting, Bacon is trying to catch and hold for a moment the image of man, because that is the only way he can conceive of reflecting and preserving the terrible reality of life.

The Tate exhibition: Page 27



                  One of Bacon’s new series on Velasquez’s “Innocent the Tenth









WHATEVER rating Francis Bacon may eventually deserve on the g00d-bad scale (and nobody makes the critical balance wobble more wildly) the retrospective show of his paintings at the Tate reveal him as, of all the living painters I know, the most interesting at this moment.

The work of the great explorers of the last generation—men like Picasso or Braque or Ernst—has receded enough in time for us to be able to accept and digest it. But Bacon's discoveries are still so new that they sit on the stomach like lumps of uncooked meat. We feel we have swallowed something of importance: but it is hard to work it—as all art must be worked—into our bloodstream.

Most painters offer the newcomer some way into their secrets by the use of a half-familiar technique, or idiom, or way of looking at things. Bacon makes us start completely at scratch: his raw material is, in fact, usually ready-made—photographs, films, or other people's paintings—but he treats it so weirdly that it becomes like a friend who has suffered some terrible disease, more alien than a stranger.

Knowledgeable visitors will recognise the usual Bacon sources—the figures from Muybridege's photographic studies, the Velázquez painting of Pope Innocent X (which he has never seen), the van Goghs, the newspaper snap shots—and the recurring these of panicky isolation. The hole which Bacon has been excavating is not a wide one; but is goes down deep.

It goes down, in fact, into that region where everything becomes liquid and amorphous. Classical art is concerned with the creation of order out of chaos: disorder is Bacon's subject. (In this he may be said to be in the nordic-romantic line which runs through expressionism and existentialism.) He examines it unflinchingly and reports it accurately. For the quality which is new in Bacon and which is so alarming to most people, is the objective, unemotional way in which he depicts the horror he finds. He is not approving or indignant or pitying or mocking. He paints like a reporter, a reporter of chaos.


Like all reporters he reveals streaks in his own character in the long run, in this case a vein of sado-masochism, well revealed in a non-religious obsession with the Crucifixion. More than usual the art reveals the man. Bacon seems not concerned, like Cézanne was, for instance, to grasp the essence of what he sees: in fact he almost never paints from life. What he is tracking down is his own response to an experience, so that at every moment we are driven back to the painter himself. And we seem to taste on our own tongue the bitter but somehow intoxicating flavour of a world tuned to ashes. It is a symptom of our time that what the ancient world would have considered "unseemly," to be shrouded in holy mystery, is precisely the area most favoured these days for public exhibition. It is our public feelings we now keep private.

In a sense Bacon is a Renaissance artist turned upside down. All his paintings (except for one scrappy landscape) are of men, or men thinly disguised as animals: to Bacon man is the centre of the universe. But what he finds at this centre is no more than a spongy ill-defined lump of matter and emotion. It is not an evil vision, but it is a frightening one, a glimpse of mankind without either divine grace or human dignity.

Bacon is a true original. He not only has no art-school academism to live down, he has contrived to forget all previous canons of painting. He has painfully evolved a language of his own to express his new thoughts. Like the grunts of some of the new inarticulate drama it is often primeval: but it says something which could not be said any other way. All the apparatus of normal attractiveness is avoided. If the texture is rubbery, if the outline has the slimy art-nouveau contour of a film cartoon, one may be sure this deliberately. It is interesting, for instance, to compare the crisply muscled wrestling athletes in Muybridge's photographs with the hairless jelly-bellies, like something squeezed out of a huge toothpaste tube, into which Bacon transforms them—corpulent executives struggling erotically together on a crumpled bed. (We are reminded of the early sex-obsessed Cézanne.)

Visual feeling

The transformation is done with a virtuoso's skill—the brush slithering over the canvas like the caress of a pudgy palm to convey the sensation of something which is neither quite solid nor quite melting. Like everything else in Bacon's pictures each element contributes not towards the creation of beauty, but to achieve the most vivid possible communication of a sensation. "An attempt to make a certain type of feeling visual," he has called his art.

In doing so he has inadvertently made discoveries of composition, texture and the use of imagery which will pass into the vernacular of painting. We had better all go and expose ourselves to Bacon's utterances if we are to understand many of the pictures of the future.

Two important elements seem to me to be missing in many of the works. One (which seem to be emerging in the exciting new paintings which crown this splendidly chosen and displayed exhibition) is what makes a picture last long after the first impact of what says has worn off—the quality of the painting as a thing in itself. The other is, to put it crudely, the absence of love. Bacon does not seem to love either what he is painting, or what he has painted. His frequent destruction of his own work is not only a sign of high critical standards.

Echoes of Berlin

Sir John Rothenstein's interesting introduction to the catalogue gives a small clue to a possible source of the despair and bitterness in Bacon's art. At an early and impressionable age he spent some time in Isherwood's Berlin. Something of the Kurfurstendamm flickers out of the paintings and it is tempting to identify here and there the nude figure of Mr. Norris.

Whatever their complicated origins may be, the paintings contain an electrifying actuality. They are snap shots of an age. What they show is not a pretty picture, but it is our own, stamped as indelibly on these canvases as the charred shadows on the walls of Hiroshima.








British Painting in the Sixties, a two-part exhibition organised by the Contemporary Art Society, opened yesterday; older artists can be seen at the Tate, the younger generation at the Whitechapel.

It makes possible a comprehensive reappraisal of the work of British painters today: their achievement and promise are discussed by DAVID SYLVESTER







BRITISH PAINTING always inclines to have a somewhat forced, unnatural air, like ladies’ cricket or hip clergymen. It’s obviously the product of a nation that prefers dreaming, reflecting, moralising, story-telling to the act of looking. It doesn’t rejoice in an easy animal spontaneity, and on the other hand doesn’t attain a high perfection of style. It can be very elegant, it can be very poetic, but there’s virtually always something incomplete about it, something tentative, something unfulfilled.

Last year, two of our leading painters, Francis Bacon and William Coldstream (I’d say our two leading painters), had important retrospective shows. There were 91 items in Bacon's; these, said the catalogue, amounted to nearly half his surviving works. The Coldstream exhibition included 56 paintings, and these comprised about three-quarters of his life's output. Now, Bacon was born in 1909 and the earliest picture in his show was dated 1930, Coldstream in 1908 and his earliest exhibit was dated 1928. So until last year an average of about six paintings a year left Bacon's studio and about 2.5 had left Coldstreams.

Going not by their present-day prices but by those current when each painting was done, the total earnings from the sale of these pictures, less the cost of studio rental and materials over a 30 year period, might have kept them alive on tea and potatoes.

I should point out in passing that both of them showed exceptional gifts from early on. Consider Coldstreams The Studio, now in the Tate, or Bacon’s Crucifixion in Sir Colin Andersons collectioneach painted when the artist was 24. Today we make heroes of painters still at art school, but theres only one post-war painter in this country, Frank Auerbach, who in my view has gone as far as Bacon and Coldstream before reaching 25.

What is more, their gifts were readily recognised: any discouragement they received came from themselves. At the age of 26 Coldstream stopped painting and went into documentary films (with John Grierson). Bacon went on painting, and during the next ten years preserved one canvas.

Their affinities end there. Coldstream is a painfully slow worker who has had, moreover, two or three long spells of hardly painting at all, so that he has actually painted very few pictures (like Vermeer). Bacon works fast, produces a lot, preserves a minimal proportion. He still says he might preserve nothing did he not need to sell, and theres no doubt that he is one man who makes such a statement without affectation.

Nor does he work as if he was reconciled to selling. His way of painting leaves no room for calculation as to what the canvas he is working on would bring (the romantically-minded may believe that this is true of most authentic artists: but its not). Ironically enough, the pictures that leave the studio are not necessarily the best ones he does. The more interested he is in the painting he is working on, the more likely he is to go on and on with it rather than stop because it looks good.’ He risks what he has won to win more, and this will often mean losing all. On the other hand, the moment arrives when he can no longer put off keeping a promise to deliver a picture, and the picture he releases may be inferior to the last six he has destroyed.

This in a way is more deeply indicative of an amateur rather than a professional attitude to being a painter than the wholesale destruction of his work which went on at the time he had no need to sell. I mean that it signifies a complete dissociation between production and distribution—between the artists private activity in painting and his public role as a maker of objects collectors and museums can buy.

A critic once said about Bacon that if only, instead of painting those ghastly screaming faces, he would apply his skill to painting a rose the writer would do him the honour of buying the picture. The remark is less fatuous than it sounds, in that it emphasises that Bacon is a real painter and not simply a perpetrator of horrible imaginings. And Bacon has very occasionally done a more or less ‘straight’ painting of landscape.

But, by and large, his skill in handling paint comes out of his need to give substance to particular obsessive images, and not exactly pleasant images like roses. He could never stand the boredom of painting in order to turn out well-made pictures. He isn’t a pro, ready to have a go at what is asked of him, but a Gentleman, playing the game to divert or torment himself.




        Images of Our Time



EDWARD LUCIE-SMITH on the paintings of Francis Bacon





AS EVERYONE HAS been saying, the retrospective exhibition now on at the Tate Gallery reveals that Francis Bacon is the most impressive and original British painter alive. Yet this compliment is, to my mind, less enormous than it sounds. Bacon towers over a national school which has been going through one of its less distinguished phases. And there are distinctly retrograde aspects to his work, as well as new and fruitless ones.

I think that we are, perhaps, a little too gingerly in our approach to Bacon's work. He is a difficult artist, but neither as hermetic nor as unique as people have made him out to be. The otherwise excellent introduction to the exhibition catalogue, written by Sir John Rothenstein, displays this gingerliness of an almost exaggerated extent. Sir John makes great play with the sources of Bacon's imagery: his admiration for Grunewald, Rembrandt and Velasquez, the use he makes of the photographs of animals and human beings in motion taken by Eadweard Muybridge at the end of the nineteenth century. What he does not say is the kind of artist that he thinks Bacon is.

Yet I think some of the clues are to be found very near at hand, in the Tate Gallery itself. Anyone who goes from the Bacon exhibition to the galleries in which the Tate's stupendous collection of Turners is displayed, will at once recognise certain similarities between the two artists. Turner's 'Sunrise with a Sea Monster', his 'Skeleton Falling from a Horse', even the apparently more conventional 'The Letter', have unmistakable likenesses to Bacon's work. The first two, with their use of an ambiguous, vaporous technique to conjure up an image of horror, are very close to what we find in Bacon's earlier pictures. And 'The Letter', though more tranquil in mood than anything by Bacon, has something of his method of drawing: the truncations, distortions, and above all the ambiguities. Bacon has mentioned Turner approvingly as an artist who 'attempted to make idea and technique inseparable', and 'The Letter' does indeed show something of Bacon's use of accident.

There is also another artist, a contemporary of Turner's, of whom Bacon reminds me strongly in another way, and that is Géricault. The terrible image in the centre panel of Bacon's 'Three Studies for a Crucifixion 1962'what seems to be a ravaged, devastated and still-bleeding corpse huddled on a narrow iron bedsuggests to me nothing so much as the famous picture by Géricault of a pile of severed limbs which is now in the Musée Fabre, Montpellier.

These comparisons are important because they help to place Bacon as essentially a Romantic artist, the last heir to the great rhetorical painters of the early nineteenth century. In some respects, it is extraordinary how far  the similarities can be traced. There is, for example, the question of the strong sado-masochistic element in Bacon's work. This links him immediately not only to Géricault but (as one of my colleagues has already pointed out) to Fuseli.

Bacon shares with the great Romantics both their qualities and their defects, but often rather more of their defects. He has their violent recalcitrance and individualism; he shares with them the desire to expose his true self, and not some created self or aspect of self which might seem more pleasing or creditable. He also has an immediate and unfettered access to the subconscious which strikes me as positively pre-Freudian in its absence of embarrassment. But his lack of inhibition can sometimes make him seem a little ludicrous, just as his concentration on his own individuality can seem strident. This point is well demonstrated in the pictures devoted to the theme of Van Gogh, where Van Gogh's originals express psychic stress much more effectively than the variations which Bacon makes of them.

He shares with painters like Géricault and Fuseli, and also with Caravaggio a  particular attitude to the audience. As with them, the presence of the audience and its reaction are very much part of the work of art. In fact, he attacks us; and without our shock the picture is nothing. There are two kinds of shock: the kind which wears off, and the kind that doesn't. Fuseli, for example, is an artist who induced a terror which was once called 'delicious', but where delight has turned rather too readily to patronizing amusement. With Géricault, on the other hand, there are pictures which shock and terrify every time we look at them. Set against Géricault, Bacon does not benefit  by the comparison.

It is not that I want to insist on a true-blue (or true-red) Marxist interpretation of Géricault's gift, such as was attempted by Mr John Berger at the time of the Romantic exhibition. But it is true to say that Géricault is an artist who appears greater because he at once mirrors, interprets, and transcends his own age. The disturbance within himself somehow became linked to, and enabled him to harness for purposes of art, the great historical disturbances of the Napoleonic wars and the Industrial Revolution. Does Bacon do the same for our own epoch? His soundlessly screaming popes, his flabby wrestlers grappling erotically on a bed, his cowering nudes pitilessly exposed on their couches, present powerful images of cruelty, terror, obscenity, and loneliness. But there is a way in which these images, borrowed from painting or photography, fail to be of broad application. Because his range of imagery is so restricted, but even more because it is presented to us as imagery only, as metaphor not the 'thing-in-itself', we find ourselves regarding Bacon's work as something which touches reality at certain points, but is not part of it. It is not part of twentieth-century truth as Géricault's is part of nineteenth-century truth; it does not interpenetrate with our own times as Grunewald's Isenheim Altarpiece interpenetrates with the reality of the late Middle Ages. I choose this last comparison, both because of Bacon's professed admiration for Grunewald, and also because of his own attraction to the theme of the Crucifixion. The purposes for which he uses it, however, seem to me as private and special as Grunewald's were public and universal. Bacon, like certain contemporary writers (Gunn and Genet come to mind) uses his imagery of cruelty partly as a means of making guilt into art. But the guilt is always somebody else's; it does not become one's own.




       ‘Man Seated with Turkey rug’, by Francis Bacon: from the exhibition of his work at the Tate Gallery, London




       Moore and Bacon


                        By BRYAN ROBERTSON 





BACON'S recent paintings at the New London Gallery show as clearly as ever that he is projecting an image of death from which all positive life or hope is rigorously excluded. That is the point of his work and its fatal restriction. He is not making a tragic image. Instead, he is playing out a morbidnot tragicobsession which has meaning within the terms of psychopathology, but can never attain the universality of  genuine tragedy, for this needs an alternative ingredient to offset its negation and provide the real catharsis that we find in Mantegna, Rembrandt, and Goya. The horror of absolute corruption, brought almost to the edge of death, is hermetically sealed in Bacon's work and clings on, sick and fearful, in a self-absorbed trance. The painting itself is bold and energetic but undermined by the weakness of expressionist rapportage intent upon registering feeling in terms of paint without any constructive thought to push the paint further. And so the formal quality of his figures and backgrounds are rarely successful, and even then only at an elementary level. The compression chamber, the intangible prison cell, so familiar from literature, has lost its meaning and turns into a sentimental device.

There is still much to admire. The drips of paint, used as a perspective device to pinpoint space, which still carry an emotional weight. The tightrope tension between specific, readable reality, and camouflaged, out of focus areas of activityobjects on the edge of the arena, or the visceral black splayed across parts of the figures. The insistence on vertical figuresconsistent for many yearseven when foreshortened and recumbent, to produce an active, bristling immediacy of contact with the spectator, who is almost trapped as a protagonist. (The standing figure in the street was originally a reclining figure.) The equally consistent alienation effect achieved by the scale of figure to space or furniture; the cut-out figure from one canvas superimposed on another; or the two figures in 'Man and Child' in which the child's legs are separated from her body by placing the figure against the diagonal, disrupting intersection of wall and floor while the man's head and shoulders are isolated from his body by being set against a window frame. The familiar preoccupation with furniture as an active participant, changing according to the formal tensions of the figures. The obvious approach to sculpture, for many of these bunched up, convulsive figures might almost stem from the early sculptures of Matisse when he was trying to bring a baroque amplitude into the severities of cubism, or the sculpture of Duchamp-Villion. And the sensuous resolution of individual passages in the paintingthis can be beautiful, as in the drifting debris in the street scene. There is much else to be absorbed by and to admire, but the severe limitations rob these works of complete authority. Disparities in scale between figure and context may occasionally have a point as psychological impact, but too often are clearly the result of weak design, as in the feeble 'Figure with Hypodermic Syringe'. There is also the disagreeable feeling that something repellent is being gilded, prettified, in a chic sensea chunk of raw, putrefying meat in a smart, bright décor. The colour itself remains arbitrary, and the lighter tones lack an earlier resonance. Design has expanded slightly and comments on certain aspects of abstract art, but they  are only used, coldly, they are not explored. In this sense, and in others, Bacon's work belongs to the academy, and relies more and more on sentimental sensationalism.

We are left with the personal myth and the performance as an artist. Both are fascinating and in different ways command respect. The myth has absolute validity, based as it is on courage, independence, and a high degree of professional energy shot through by ambiguities of technique and formal irresolutions. Bacon's shortcomings are those of any artist crippled by an excessively self-indulgent obsessive vision. Outside that, out in the world, only a handful of people can truthfully respond, though they can stare through lurid shock. For his work has not made a world with real meaning for any possible society, but only a morbid aspect of what is anti-life, a painful travesty ritual on the razor's edge of death. Trapped there, it is incapable of growth, only an occasional increase in confidence at a fixed level.

The new sculpture of Henry Moore confirms a feeling that after marking time for a while in the nineteen-fifties he has moved through to an intensity of feeling and constructive energy which has demanded and found a considerable extension of sculptural language. The knife-edge forms, the three-piece reclining figure, the large torso (and arch), the wall (a background for sculpture which is so strong in character in itself that nothing is needed to add to its life), the locking piece and the knife-edge two-piece confrontation are all brilliant and forceful inventions. The essence of Moore's work is always to be found in the grimmest or most ferocious sculpture; his matronly figures and other sweeter preoccupations lack the conviction and the formal power of his darker side. There was once a danger that a consciousness of art might stifle his development and his ability to be true to himself. He has passed that hurdle. This new work has added to the greatest sculpture of the twentieth centuryand has also radically enriched the expression of this particular moment.




       'Turning Figure' by Francis Bacon from the exhibition at Marlborough New London Gallery




  The dream & the nightmare









IT IS PERHAPS TOO SOON TO SAY ANYTHING NEW about the paintings of Francis Bacon, whose latest canvases fill half of the New London Gallery. Having scarcely recovered from the violent impact of his great retrospective show at the Tate a year ago, I found the shock effect of these new pictures less disturbing than I had anticipated. This had the advantage of making it possible, for once, to look at Bacon in a reasonably objective way instead of in a state of emotional disturbance.

His painting has a compelling repugnance. Unlike the artist himself—whose attitude to a picture, once he has finished it, is summed up in his question to Sir John Rothenstein, How can I take an interest in my work when I don't like it!”  —I have, so far, always been interested in it because I disliked it.

I disliked it as I dislike nightmares. But now, in the same way that I am able to look back on a nightmare in the light of day and wonder why I was frightened, I can look into the most horrific of Bacon's paintings without even a shudder. The explanation maybe that for me Mr. Bacon has cried Wolf!”  too often. That does not matter. What matters is that he is like a magician who has lost his hold over me but is now revealing the secret of his magic, a thing more fascinating than the magic itself.









It was fairly clear from the very extensive exhibition of the work of Francis Bacon at the Tate Gallery a year ago that the painter found mankind and its silly face thoroughly nauseating. I went to the New London Gallery recently to see whether he had in any way altered his opinion and was unable to discover which he disliked morehimself or us. As a painterself-taught moreoverhe composes beautifully in depth and has the most exquisite feeling for nuances of tone; but he seems to exist in a very personal hell of his own manufacture, a clue to which perhaps was given in an interview on the radio which I heard with astonishment not unmixed with hilarity and which I see was printed in a recent Sunday Times supplement: David Sylvester was asking him about the recent Triptych called "The Crucifixion," and Bacon answered, "It was a picture that I did in about a fortnight, and when I was in a bad mood of drinking, and I did it under tremendous hangovers and drink; I sometimes hardly knew what I was doing."

I know I ought not to be hilarious about this naive statement but I'm not hilarious about the painterto me he is a tragic figure, self-crucifying; I am hilarious over those who must at all costs be in the swim and imagine that great paintings can emerge from hangovers. I left this man of great and authentic talent to his own sorrowful nightmares beyond the range of the ordinary dyspeptic, passed through an array of majestic and oddly soothing Henry Moore "presences," and emerged into the light of day to look for an antidote to Baconian depressionand found it without difficulty up the road at Wildentein's where 40 portraits from the 15th to the 19h centuries, some of them trivial, a few masterpieces, looked down from the walls.

A whole exhibition of nothing but portraits can be as boring as a series of silly nightmares; in my then mood I felt I had been released from a claustrophobic hell to climb up to the Golden Gatesand what is more, to be welcomed, so that even one or two over-sweet confections by minor men of the late 15th and 18th centuries seemed marvels of sanity if not of intelligence. Portrait painters of all ages are tempted to please their sitters rather than their own consciences; all the greater pleasure therefore to be faced by so intimate, so apparently simple a painting as this child's head by Delacroix (Fig.1), the centenary of whose death is this summer being celebrated by a great exhibition at the Louvre. (See page 201).





Enter Bacon, With The Bacon Scream



Britain's most influential - and disturbing - painter is seen in his first major American exhibition.






LONDON. THE Francis Bacon retrospective now showing at the Guggenheim Museum is the biggest one-man exhibition of a 20th-century British painter ever held in the United States. Bacon's fame, nonetheless, is of fairly recent date. Thus, 10 tears ago when an advertisement in The Times of London announced a lecture on Francis Bacon at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, the incoming mail brought an interested letter from the Francis Bacon Society, publishers of Baconiana!

The present Francis Bacon, who, incidentally, is a collateral descendent of the Elizabethan, had his first one-man show in 1949, when he was 39. It was probably the most controversial one-man show London has had since the war. Some saw Bacon as a major artist, others as a sensationalist, others as an interesting eccentric. In subsequent shows, Bacon continued to divide critical opinion, and displayed his power - which has now become rather rare - to disconcert and puzzle those are hardened to avant-garde art. I suspect that one of the things which causes uneasiness is his combining a feeling of terror with a feeling of luxury. We are accustomed to contemplation of the suffering poor. But Bacon appears to be painting the suffering rich. His screaming figures have an air of authority and wealth.

Perhaps the most ambitious thing of all about Bacon's art is its implicit insistence that painting is not worth bothering to do if its subject matter is not on a tragic scale. It is not enough, he seems too feel, to paint the human head or figure - as if merely to do this in a new way were not already difficult enough today. He must paint the human head or figure as seen in an extreme situation. For it is not only Bacon's screaming figures who seem to us to be faced with disaster; every Bacon figure has an air of desperation. I take it that this preoccupation is provoked by the fact that only in such extreme situations - when our self-possession is lost -  our reassuring poses broken down - do we reveal ourselves as we really are.

At any rate, if the index of a painter's standing is how other painters rate him, Francis Bacon has been established as Britain's leading painter for 10 years or more. The younger artists here look up to him with a unanimity which is remarkable, and it is astonishing how admiration for him cuts across opposing schools of thought. Bacon's contemporaries and seniors could scarely be expected, human nature being what it is, to feel quite the same enthusiasm, but most of them do look upon him with that special kind of admiring, slightly grudging regard which artists reserve for one of their number who is completely unafraid to be himself. As to painters from abroad, I have found that they - Americans especially - have been more interested in Bacon, probably, than in all the rest of our painters put together.

In market value, it is only in the last couple of years that Bacon has up alongside Ben Nicholson as the most expensive to buy of living British painters. Canvases of his usual size - in the region of  80 inches by 60 -  are now in demand at around $14,000. But six years ago an acquaintance of mine who needed to sell a Bacon he owned - a large and fine one - was prepared to accept £600 for it.

Both public and private collections here were much slower in getting on to Bacon than they were with such artists as Nicholson, Sutherland and Moore. Until two years ago, by which time Bacon was 51, the Tate Gallery had actually purchased just one painting of his, although the collection did include three further works which had been donated. In comparison, the number of Sutherlands in the collection  then amounted to 16. Belatedly, the Tate has taken to buy Bacons (now that they cost real money).

Yet this gallery, the only important public gallery of contemporary art in Britain, is still without one of the many versions of that famous Bacon image of a seated figure, his mouth open in a scream, which dominated figurative painting of the nineteen-fifties in Britain as clearly as de Kooning's woman image dominated it in America.

The scream, of course, had a good deal to do with the reluctance of the Establishment to come to terms with Bacon. The scream wasn't artistically respectable; it seemed a bit far-fetched. Bacon was thought to be too intent on making our flesh creep. At a public discussion in 1951, critic Herbert Read complained that Bacon's work just was not painting. Although official opinion softened with time and conceded that Bacon was a brilliant as well as highly original painter, he was, all the same, at best too much of a maverick, and at worst, a purveyor of gratuitous melodrama. Critic Raymond Mortimer wrote that if only Bacon would turn his talents to doing a picture of a rose, the result would be something he would wish to possess.

As to the subjects Bacon did paint, "Grand Guignol" was a comparison that tended to recur. As a matter of fact, it was a rather inept comparison. Bacon is no a painter of scenes of bloodletting, torture and violent death (his overt themes are tame by contrast with the scourgings and skinnings of medieval and Renaissance images of martyrdoms). The source for the ubiquitous screaming mouth was the close-up from Eisenstein's Russian film classic "Battleship Potemkin" of the bespectacled old lady shot in the eye, and it is significant that, while Bacon's adaptations of this image often include the spectacles as well as the shriek, they never show the glasses as shattered or the blood running down the face. Bacon almost goes out of his way not to illustrate horror.

In a number of his paintings, the figures are based upon the Velázquez portrait of Pope Innocent X in the Palazzo DoriaRome. This reference to the Pope, indeed, has proved to be a main source of confusion about Bacon, along with the fact that Bacon has done several paintings relating to the Crucifixion, including one picture of Christ crucified in which something that appears to be a dead dog is hung over the horizontal of the Cross. People have asked whether Bacon is preaching bizarre distortion of Christianity, whether he is satirizing the Church or what. They seem to feel some guidance is needed on how to approach such subject matter, that some explaining is required. There is no easy explanation, however.

In an interview recently, Bacon said that his paintings of the Crucifixion had no religious significance for him; that as "a nonbeliever," the Crucifixion to him is "just an act of man's behaviour, a way of behaviour to another." He mentioned that he had long been obsessed by, and wanted to base something on, a Crucifixion scene by Cimabue: "I always think of that as a worm crawling down the Cross ... moving, undulating down the Cross." He also said that for him the theme of the Crucifixion has a relationship to the slaughterhouse, and that he had been very moved by certain photographs of animals about to be slaughtered and obviously scenting death.

Asked about his constant reference to the portrait of Innocent X, Bacon at first declared that his interest in it had nothing to do with its being the portrait of a Pope, but was prompted entirely by its being one of the greatest of the portraits of Velázquez, who is his preferred painter, and by "the magnificent colour." (Actually, the Bacon versions show the Pope robed in purple, whereas in the Velázquez he wears red). When pressed, he conceded: "Of course the Pope is unique; he's put in a unique position by being the Pope, and therefore, as in certain great tragedies, he's as though raised on to a dais, in which the grandeur of the image can be displayed." So it would seem that Bacon sees the figure of the Pope as material for a tragic image - tragedy being about the death of kings - but that there is no conscious concern with the church, either sympathetic or hostile, in his treatment of the subject.

Bacon's capacity to disconcert also arises, I believe, from his personality and rumored personal habits as much as from his actual work. Though of English stock, Bacon was born in Dublin in 1910, the son of a race-horse trainer. He left school early, traveled across France and Germany and lived for a time in Berlin.

By 1930 he was back in London  doing free-lance work as a furnish designer and interior decorator. His commissions included doing the furnishings for the dining room of the house belonging to R. A. Butler, the present Deputy Prime Minister, which were later acquired by novelist Patrick White.

Bacon, however, was more interested in trying to paint. He went ahead without any formal training, and very quickly began to win recognition - in 1933 a picture of his was reproduced in Herbert Read's "Art Now." But Bacon was not concerned with furthering his growing reputation. He exhibited vey little, and destroyed virtually everything he did. During the war, in which he served full-time in civil defense, there was little opportunity to paint. Most of his surviving work dates from the postwar years.

As for his personal habits, Bacon - or his legend - does not fit into any of the stereotypes of the avant-garde artist. He is known, for example, to drink a lot of champagne, whereas artists are supposed to drink whisky or beer or black coffee or red wine or absinthe; champagne seems symbolic of a different way of life. Again, he is believed to be addicted to gambling, especially roulette.

Still, interest in his gambling is not mere gossip, because his liking for it does have relevance to the way he works. "I think that painting today," he once wrote, "is pure intuition and luck, and taking advantage of what happens when you splash the bits down." This does not mean that Bacon thinks painting is just having loads of fun; a remark he made during an interview with the writer shows what he meant.

Bacon was talking about "the will to make oneself completely free," and he went on: "Will is the wrong word, because in the end you could call it despair. Because it really comes out of an absolute feeling of: 'It's impossible to do these things, so I may as well do anything.' And out of this 'anything,' one sees what happens."

Later he said: "You know in my case all painting - and the older I get, the more it becomes so - is an accident. So I foresee the image in my mind, I foresee it and yet I hardly ever carry it out as I foresee it. It transforms itself by the actual paint. I don't in fact know very often what the paint will do, and it does many things which are very much better than I could make it do. Perhaps one could say it's not an accident, because it becomes a selective process which part of the accident one chooses to preserve."

There are, of course, painters who preserve the first happy accident that comes along; Bacon, however, is always trying to push the thing further. The more successful he feels a painting to be, the more unable he is to leave it alone. He destroys more canvases than he allows to leave his studio, and the significant thing is that the destruction is rarely a matter of discarding an unpromising painting at an early stage. "I think I tend to destroy the better paintings, or those that have been better to a certain extent. I try and take them further and they lose all their qualities, they lose everything."

I asked him: "If you were to go on, you wouldn't get back what you'd lost, but you might get something else. Why do you tend to destroy rather than work on? Why do you prefer to begin again on another canvas rather than go on with the same one?"

"Because sometimes then it disappears completely and the canvas becomes clogged; there is too much paint on it."

Bacon would rather be left with the ruin of something that had once been really "near" than stop short of an approximation.

If there is any one moral quality manifested in the way a painter works that painters today value above all others, that quality is a readiness to take risks. And it seems to me that Bacon has been prepared to take risks more freely and grandly than any artist since Picasso - and that this is his greatest strength. In terms of achievement there may several finer painters among his generation that include Giacometti, de Staël, Dubuffet, de Kooning, Rothko, Pollock, Gorky - but I do not think that any member of it plays for such high stakes as Bacon.

Ii is not only his way of working. It is also that the kind of painting he is trying to achieve is the most difficult to do now. He is trying to paint the human head and human figure not, like Dubuffet or the New Realists, by using a conventionalized sign language, but in a way that traps the fluidity of his sensations of reality. And he is trying to reconcile this submission to the dictates of the external world with a freedom in handling paint hardly less extreme than that of recent abstract painting.

Furthermore, while he is using paint and distorting form with that especial degree of freedom won by the 20th century, he is trying to compete with the masterpieces of the past on their own terms: the layout, the space, and often the tonality of his pictures are not those of "modern" pictures but of the portraits by Rembrandt, Titian, Velázquez and Goya.

There is something peculiarly British about this sort of reconciliation between contemporary characteristics and an old-matserish look. British painters seem to have a compulsive nostalgia for the past which  leads them to attempt syntheses between, say, Matisse and the Venetians, attempts which are vitiated by an air of compromise, of being afraid to go the whole hog.

On the other hand, one of the most mysterious qualities of Britain's greatest painter, Turner, is the way in which he seems to begin with a landscape by Claude Lorrain and then assault it with light so that it partially dissolves. Bacon seems to cherish and attack a Velázquez portrait in much the same fashion, and like Turner, arrives at the same sort of combination between disintegration and renewal of a hallowed prot0type.

I think that unifying factor in Bacon's art - the factor common to his way of working , to his aesthetic conception and to his content - is his insistence that it must be all or nothing. He chooses to attempt the same sot of painting, roughly speaking, as Rembrandt and Velázquez did - though not in a traditional way or out of any mere reverence for tradition - rather than settle for one of the narrower, more specialized, more peripheral concepts to which many great modern  painters, especially nonobjective painters,  have been prepared to limit themselves.

Bacon feels dogmatically that abstract art is too arbitrary in form, therefore mere decoration. The modern painters he most admires are Bonnard, above all, Picasso, Matisse, Soutine, Giacometti. All these painters can use commonplace subjects of no immense, inherent emotional import; Bacon's final and greatest demand upon himself is the risky portentousness of his subject matter.

Obviously, this all-or-nothing outlook is a matter of temperament rather than decision. At the same time, Bacon has his rationalization for his attitude to painting. He points out that the painter today is in a special situation. Representational painting is no longer needed as a means to record actuality, since there is now the camera to do this. And painting no longer has the didactic purpose it once served.

"Man now realizes that he is an accident, that he is a completely futile being, that he has to play out the game without reason. Painting has now become, all art has now become, a game by which man distracts himself. And you may say that it has always been like that, but now it's entirely a game. I think that that is the way things have changed, and now what is fascinating actually is that it's going to become much more difficult for the artist, because he must really deepen the game to be any good at all."

DAVID SYLVESTER is a British critic and lecturer who contributes to several journals and appears regularly on the B.B.C.



      British artist Francis Bacon - "He does not fit into any of the stereotypes of the avant-garde painter."











FRANCIS BACON'S retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum demonstrates how to be a great psychological figure painter in a time that makes it impossible. Behind the devastating success, each painting is a cunning subversion of the time through a limited but brilliant strategy.

The odds against this operation being successful are considerable. Bacon's surgery is so radical that it is perilous. His subject matter (atrocity, anguish, perversion) has been devalued to cliché. He is not a natural painter and a case could be made as to how badly he often paints. Finally, he seems doubtful of the value of painting, which is at best "a game."

Yet he has produced images that corrupt the imagination and ennoble it, that attack life and preserve it, cutting us between these opposites like a scissors so that, like the artist, we become both patient and surgeon, victim and assassin.

This paradox of Bacon's art is of vital importance for all of us. Our particular time has forced on us a consciousness of bestiality and the darkest possibilities of human action without providing a way to cope with these revelations. Bacon's art does.

It adds the perverted and the atrocious to human nature, where they belong, and does so totally without moral judgement. Whoever smartly rejects Bacon's art as a profound expression of aspects of this particular timeas some are beginning to dojust hasn't seen the things the 20th century keeps under the chromium-plated counter: a body in vivisection, a cancer split open, a mind carefully mutilated.

What Bacon does to the human figure is quite clear in a literal way. The figure is filleted to a jellylike blob that can bulge and ripple into any protoplasmic travesty. His people show a curious interaction between structure and movementambiguities of movement are suggested by ambiguities of structure and occasionally vice versa. The norm of the human figure that we all carry in our heads is displaced by a number of possibilities as if we were watching some game of embryological Russian roulette. (The embryological image can be a useful one in discussing Bacon, some of whose work looks like the contents of the dermoid cyst that sidetracks a human being into a hairy pouch of loose teeth and slime.) Similarly, his emphasis on the perverted seems related to some implied norm of behavior.

The effect is the old one of holding a mirror up to nature to reflect a creature we can examine with some sensual repugnancy before it dawns on us we are looking at ourselvesor some image of our isolation, our sentient brutishness, the unadorned and perilous fact of our existence. Thus the immense concentration of his images, a power frequently inexplicable when one examines the rather obvious structure of his pictures and the fundamental pessimism of his statements.

Mr. Bacon is on record as saying that "man now realizes that he is an accident, that he is completely futile being, that he has to play out the game without reason." The pitiful creature he presents in metamorphosis is an image of the futile anti-hero changing shape, like a slug, to accommodate different stimuli. Pinned against their bright, clinical backgrounds, Mr. Bacon's hulks are trapped by their necessity to continue living, as he in turn is trapped by his necessity to paint them. And since he seems to think that they and the business of painting them are meaningless, painting becomes a sort of grudging existential act.

Perhaps the most fundamental puzzle about Bacon is how he achieves his perverse nobility and a sort of high art from such a negative basis. Basically, his work is bestiality formalized into a mystique that makes degradation metaphysical, a private Black Mass. Thus the huge "Painting" 1963 becomes a sort of meaty cathedral, the baroque draperies made of flesh, the anguish stabilized into a ceremonial hysteria.

His people are usually raised on a dais, a throne, a chair, a divan, frequently surrounded by an electric diagram of space (like the skeleton of a cube), isolated against lurid backgrounds of solid color over which black windowshades are occasionally pulled down. These charged spatial environments make anguish bearable in much the same way that ritual does and they seem located halfway between the theater and the operating room. Within this environment it is eerie to watch snail-like trails of paint crawl and drag across the figures like metaphors for flesh. The sense of ceremony is inescapable.

To put Bacon into historical perspective one need not turn to painting at all. His is the first major expression in paint of a sensibility that runs from de Sade through Rimbaud to Genet, and includes such a modern semi-masterpiece as John Osborne's "Under Plain Cover" with its netherworld of diaphragms and syringes. The best comparison is with Genet. Like him, Bacon is attached to a style of ceremonious presentation that allows him to extend the definition of life to include the underworld of rape, suicide and murder. Again as in Genet, these are not the objects of disgust but of a spiritual passion, that passion of which Baudelaire is the purest example.

His connection with the history of art he makes clear enough. He got his images from art, photographs and film, ravaging the past for the image he can subject to crisisVelázquez's "Innocent X," Blake's "Ancient of Days," the screaming woman from Eisenstein's "Potemkin". Those pioneers of creative anguish and creative spiritualism, Van Gogh and William Blake, naturally attract him. Metaphysical devices are borrowed from Giacometti, the vibrating background colour from some abstractionists.

Having found his critical moment he makes it a semi-blurred ectoplasmic instant of becoming, which introduces the crucial dimension of time into his art, bringing one to his obvious interest in serial dissolves in film, and the serial exposures of Eadweard Muybridge's studies of motion. The motion in Bacon's art is unique. He catches the spirit gawking out between moments of physical metamorphosis. The results can be spectacular. Each head in his "Study for Three Heads" is speeded up with multiple viewpoints like a Picasso of the thirties humanized by Hugo Van der Goes.

Bacon seems to have accepted the meaninglessness of life as a point of constructive departure, again something that has precedence in literature rather than art. Despair accepted is as good a basis as any for art, and painting can become an existential proof of freedom beyond responsibility. Tellingly, he has referred to painting as a game, so one is free to replace the rules according to one's will. As a performer on this disconsolate existential bridgehead, he is a compelling and compulsive artist, who has built up an astonishing oeuvre through the collision of raw life with style and ceremony. He is a sort of existential expressionist, no moralist at all, and if he feels pity, it is overcome by an implacable curiosity.

The implication behind the ceremony, the perverse nobility, the despair cancelled by acute sensation against bare nerve endings, is bleak. For life, no treatment is possible, but we all have the cure at hand. In a desperate inverted act of affirmation, his art is like one gigantic suicide to prove the value of life.













Some years ago, in London, I sat for my portrait. The artist was a slow worker, so I spent days looking at the back of the canvas on his easel. Since he was a friend of Francis Bacon's, I had something to look at during our sessions He was painting on the reverse side of an abandoned work of Bacon's. There was, I remember, the shadowy outline of a figure, dark against a whipped-up background of blue and other colours. It looked like a mad scientist in a greenhouse.

Bacon appeared in London, after World War II, with a few turbulent and anguished paintings. The impact of these paintings were terrific, but rumour was persistent that the works shown were merely the tip of the iceberg. For every painting that he let out of the studio, there were said to be rows of discarded or slashed masterpieces. The canvas on which my portrait was being done was one of these works. A double drama became associated with Bacon There was the struggle of a desperate man who destroyed most of his own work; and, there was, too, the violence of the imagery in the paintings that did survive—meat decomposing or people screaming.

For years Bacon was inseparable from rumour and legend. His nonchalance towards the preservation of his work, his pleasure in gambling, his visits to an André Gidean North Africa, were all threads in the story. (One anecdote I remember had a n English art student sketching on a beach in North Africa An Arab came up to him and opened the conversation: “Do you know Francis Bacon?”) It is a characteristic of the successful twentieth-century artist to live in a goldfish bowl. Once an artist has been awarded a goldfish bowl of his own his whole life becomes information that he shares with the world. The world troops through the studio today. Bacon, though the object of great curiosity, has managed to live in the goldfish bowl and preserve a great deal of privacy. In fact, the violence associated with his name has acted as a screen behind which he could live and work as he wanted. 

Bacon is in his early fifties, but does not look it. It is neither the regularity of his work habits nor the circumspection of his life that has given him his remarkable youthfulness. On the contrary, he has never spared himself, never been a man to take it easy. Bacon does not like abstract art and dismisses it casually as mere decoration—an opinion revealing the indifference with which Bacon protects himself from subjects that are of no interest to him. Nevertheless, he is the only painter of his age who continues to the interest younger artists in England, many of whom are abstract painters. No other painter of Bacon's generation in England (a mild lot) has displayed the particular qualities of nerve and obsession that seem to characterize the best modern painters in other countries.

An exhibit of more than sixty paintings by Bacon has opened at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Surrounded as one is at the Museum, by an abundance of large spectacular works, it is hard to remember that Bacon achieved fame first as a painter almost without paintings. Gradually, he has separated himself from the web of rumours and party talk that surrounded him, and, in the last few years, has become a very much more productive painter. At least he has allowed much more of his productivity to remain. At the Guggenheim, for example, though the show is retrospective, and goes back to 1946, at least twenty percent of the works were painted within the last three years. Bacon has made the transition from cult figure to major painter with his later work fully displayed, not shielded by being held back or destroyed. (American collectors, incidentally, were on to Bacon early, and the present exhibition draws on American, as well as European, sources.)

It used to be thought that abstract painting was difficult to appreciate and that figurative art was easy because it appealed directly to common experience. This argument was O.K. for the early twentieth century, but is no longer convincing in the changed situation of mid-century art. Good art and bad, difficult art and easy, are no longer identifiable with set styles, but only with the uses artists make of them. The work of Francis Bacon is among the reasons that this easy antithesis has to be abandoned. There is, for instance, little agreements as to what the subject matter of his paintings really is. There are nudes, but what are they doing? There are men in spaces that look like hotel rooms; or they may just be corners of Bacon's studios. The scenes are clearly displayed and yet not decipherable into verbal explanations. Bacon is fully prepared for this situation, or at least used to it, because he says: "Everybody has his own interpretation of a painting he sees. I don't mind if they have different interpretations of what I have painted." Certainly his critics have made full use of this freedom (which is, perhaps, rather insolently bestowed—like Apollo granting Midas' imprudent wish for gold). His figures of Popes have been explained as anti-clerical and as Freudian father-symbols; they have also been explained away as appealing to Bacon as a theme simply because the Pope wears such handsome colours.

Then there is the problem of his quotations from other artists. He has often paraphrased Velázquez famous portrait of Pope Innocent X, but this quotation is not like the respectful evocation of a classical model because the artist feels he can not improve on it.  On the contrary, one image begets another in Bacon's art and it is quite possible for him to continue, in the same picture, from the Pope to a reference to Einstein's film, The Battleship Potemkin. A screaming head, famous from the Odessa steps sequence in that movie, began to appear in his paintings in 1949. Thus, a famous painting is combined with a photographed image, so that the old and the new, the traditional and the modern are disconcertingly fused. Both art lovers and movie fans have disconcerted.

Incidentally, the movie quotation, though from a silent film, makes Bacon' a precursor of today's pop artists, with their references to images of mass communications. Bacon has persistently used original and unexpected sources for his art. Many of his figures and animals derive from such books as Eadweard Muybridg's The Human Figure in Motion and Marius Maxwell's Stalking Big Game With a Camera in Equatorial Africa. One was published in the  1890's, the other in the twenties, and undoubtedly Bacon relished the period-flavour of the photographs, as well as their status as records of fact. He shows that no visual material, no human records, exist that can not be valid, if interpreted meaningfully.

Bacon's art has a way of connecting, knowingly but obliquely,  with problems which have to be faced, at some time or another, by everybody interested in art. First, what is the role of the masterpiece? There was a time when nobody doubted its value. It was the great work which summed up all that an artist had been trying to say and it was undoubtedly destined for immortality. In one way, Bacon seems o aim at producing masterpieces, in the grandeur and ambition that his works display, but at the same time he seems to be destroying the ground for a masterpiece. By painting pictures in series, as he does, or as variations on a theme, he seems to be saying that no single painting i sufficient to make his point. Thus, instead of destroying masterpieces, as his friends say he used to do, he repeats possible masterpieces in endless series and variations. The result is that his pictures need to be seen in groups, and, when they are,  they look like successive stages from a film or or a picture magazine (like, say, records of a suicide jumping off a building or a girl having a completely new hair do).

A second problem which Bacon's art consistently raises has to do with the influence of photography on art. Of course, this is not a new theme, and in the nineteenth century Delacroix, Corot, Daumier, and (the suddenly revived) Aphonse Mucha, were among those painters who were interested in the new medium. What Bacon has done is to bring his painting into relation with the mass of photographic images which fill the world today. And this means that his paintings, in this respect, share a common ground with ourselves. Today none of us escapes the influence of the visual explosion. In fact, it is through photography that we get much of our information about politicians, fashion, outserspace, and Christine Keeler. Our image of reality is substantially shaped by photography. Bacon transfers the visual appearance of photographs into his art, and never more so than when he is painting freely. He has an evocative way of dabbling a dry brush, or twisting a wet one, so that, like heavily screened newsprint or out-of-focus photography, physical reality is evoked, but in a rather oblique form. In fact, Bacon told David Sylvester in a recent interview on the British Broadcast Company that to him "forms change continuously." He improvises as he works so that a painting, even though planned out in advance to some extent, may not have a predictable outcome. It is not the least of Francis Bacon's paradoxes that however much he improvises in paint, he never loses contact with that blurred, gritty, yet persistently factual presence that photography creates.

Bacon's paintings are as stately as the portraits of ancestors in English country houses, even though the forms are evasive and hard to pin down. The composition of his paintings prepares us for an image in the Grand Manner, but when we look closely, its forms and composition seem to stretch, as in a distorting mirror, or dissolve out of focus. The result is that everything in Bacon tends to produce uncertainty, often of an ominous or breathtaking kind. 

In a new painting of Bacon's Landscape near Malabata, Tangier his dazzling colour range, and emotive power of his imagery, can be seen. The landscape is sucked into a kind of vortex, and surrounded by a screen, like the canvas windbreaks they put up on Côte d'Azur beaches, or, perhaps, like the pens in which, three hundred years ago, royal bore hunts took place. The forms within this arena are blurred by wind or movement, including the evocative human-looking smear in the foreground.

Why does Bacon paint sinister and harrowing subjects? This is a question that, often asked, needs to be answered, although one is tempted to say, why not? After all, nobody demands "why bottles?" when faced with Giorgio Morandi's still calm lifes. One answer takes the whole affair out of painting and into the area of moralizing editorial writers. This arguing sees Bacon as a mirror held up to the human condition, faithful recorder of a bad time.

However, there is another way to look at Bacon's subjects and that is to see them as the personal expression of a view of lifeand death. To quote Bacon's own words: "Man now can only attempt to beguile himself, for a time, by  buying a ind of  immortality through the doctors." And, in his paintings Bacon represents life, its vulnerability and man's impermanence. Thus, one can say, it i the speed of change that is, in a way, his subject.  Just as fashion styles are always on the move, visibly changing every few years how woman look and, more slowly, how men look, so Bacon depicts man as subject to change, unstoppably. The human body is represented as if it were as topical and as expendable as clothes. This is not, by any means, a negative view of his life, but simply recognition of the facts of life.






FRANCIS BACON, who is now having an extraordinary exhibition at New York's Guggenheim Museum, arranged by its curator, Lawrence Alloway, is an original, a discoverer of new ways with a memory of the old. (In the photograph here, taken in Bacon's studio, there is at his left a Rembrandt self-portrait reproduction.) To some people he is a shocker as a painter, to some he is only an eccentric with a known compulsion towards gambling. To some he is bats. To others, however, he is but far the greatest painter in Britain. An isolated man, sometimes extremely attractive, sometimes curiously aloof, who wants to record the faces he sees, he is frequently surprised that certain spectators think of is paintings as screams of rage, for there is little of the rebel about him. He lives his unsettled life comfortably in disorder. With great candour he knows that he horrifies. Before the Guggenheim, the Tate Gallery in London gave him, several years ago, a show, oddly violent in reaction since his paintings are so quite, mirages often of multiple images, of sliding, melting faces that make some spectators feel their are eyes out of focus.

BACON'S "Landscape near Malabatta, "painted at Tangier in May this year, is one of his few landscapes. About it, Lawrence Allowat wrote: "The landscape is sucked into a kind of vortex, and surrounded by a screen, like the canvas windbreaks they put up on Cote d'Azur beaches, or, perhaps, like the pens in which, three hundred years ago, royal bore hunts too place. The forms within this arena blurred by wind or movement, including the evocative human-looking smear in the foreground." (It is published through the kindness of Marlborough Fine Art Limited, London).




                                                     Francis Bacon Landscape near Malabata, Tangier, 1963





  In the New Grand Manner


    TIME | FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 1, 1963 




"If I sit and daydream, the images rush by like a succession of coloured slides," says Francis Bacon. Every once in a while, he stops one and puts it down on canvas. Full of atrocity and anguish, they are the most consistently disturbing images in modern art today.

Bacon paints tragedy, and his works are both noble and enervating. Since he does not believe in life after death, he cherishes existence as a singular event: he is a fatalist taking arms against despair. "Life itself is a tragic thing," he says. "We watch ourselves from the cradle, performing into decay. Man now realizes that he is an accident, a completely futile being, that he has to play out the game without reason."

Professional Nomad. Collateral descendant of his courtly Elizabethan namesake, Bacon is a ruddy, puffy Pan whose brown hair is ungreyed at 54. He is a self-taught artist and a loner among modern artists. He lives like a loner—staying barely long enough in any one London flat to litter it and leave. Last week, having just ended a four-month toot, Bacon was back at his easel in a South Kensington mews flat that has been home for a scant fortnight. At the same time, 65 of his oils went on exhibit in Manhattan's Guggenheim Museum. It was the largest one-man show in the U.S. for a living British painter within the century.

Bacon's success is sudden. Not until the age of 40 did he have his first one-man show. Today he is Britain's foremost painter. He hearkens back to the English portrait tradition—the grand manner. This phrase was used by Sir Joshua Reynolds to define the ideal High Renaissance portrayal of the human figure in elevated themes. The theme of Bacon's grand manner is man's eventual, often brutal descent into the grave-but it is nevertheless a way of dealing with the lofty idea of man against tragic destiny, sometimes in austere agony, sometimes in embarrassing abandon.

His subjects are uneasily seated atop a dais, sprawled in frank nakedness on a couch, wrestling through homosexual positions on a podium. In last year's Three Studies for a Crucifixion, a motif he has been studying since 1931, Bacon painted a triptych more than 14 ft. wide with enigmatic figures and bony carcasses looming in red oval rooms. The central panel contains a kneaded corpse lying in bed amidst a welter of congealed gore. There is no more overt Christian symbolism than that every man can find himself martyred meaninglessly. And the source of Bacon's idea is no mystery: two widely publicized sex murders took place in London shortly before he painted it.



                                    PAINTER BACON & HIS IMAGES OF MAN

                     Man taking arms against his tragic destiny.


Pretzel Poses. 

Bacon studies man through the man-made images of photography. Barricaded in his flat with blankets across the windows, he uses reproductions from art books and sensational photos from newspapers as his models. He painted a series of gnarled, garishly coloured portraits of his predecessor in agony, Vincent Van Gogh, after reproductions of the Dutch artist's long-lost The Artist on the Road to Tarascon. Most famous of his serial portraits are those of screaming pontiffs modeled after a papal commission by Velásquez (see opposite page). Though he has been through Rome, where Pope Innocent X's portrait hangs in the Palazzo Doria-Pamphili, Bacon has never gone to see it. The gum-baring shriek that gapes out of so many of his portraits is copied from a still from Sergei Eisenstein's film of 1925, The Battleship Potemkin, in which a horrified nurse is shot point-blank through her pince-nez. Why these subjects? "They haunt me," Bacon replies.

The images that haunt Bacon haunt his viewers even more. Great bisected sides of beef are constant and chilly recurring still lifes in his works. "I look at a lamb chop on a plate, and it means death to me," says he. The human figure is contorted into pretzel poses, sodden and stiff as if in rigor mortis. His cubism is boldly uncubical: blurry whorls, bulges, and lumps perform the cubist function of showing one object from all sides in a series of succeeding moments—an idea partly derived from a photo of a chimpanzee in Ozenfant's Foundations of Modern Art.

Ghastly Gallop.

In one of his most recent works, Landscape near Malabata, reminiscent of the outskirts of Tangier where he used to vacation, Bacon dissolves trees, grass and ghostly beasts into a ghastly gallop around the center of his canvas. Faster and faster they seem to run, until the shadows no longer keep up with what is casting them. One brushstroke more could throw it out of step, and Bacon knows it. He destroys more canvases than most artists paint.

He is reaching for one perfect final portrait of man, and his avaricious eye is often bigger than his brush. "I am trying to communicate with myself, and I keep hoping that one day I'll knock myself backward with the impact of what I've done." Until then, the chances are good that Bacon will continue bowling over everybody else.








                                        IN COLLABORATION WITH

                      THE ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO


                                 October, 1963 — January, 1964



The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is honored to present the first American Museum retrospective exhibition by the distinguished British painter Francis Bacon. The Museum, thereby implements its stated policy to exhibit modern art of exceptional quality and significance regardless of national origins or stylistic categories.

That we should be joined in this endeavor by one of the great museums in this country. The Art Institute of Chicago, is a source of particular gratification and sets a fruitful precedent for similar collaborative ventures in the future.

Harry F. Guggenheim. President, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation


Francis Bacon, through his imagery, refers to the Gospel and to Van Gogh; to Popes and to businessmen; to male and female nudes; to dogs and apes. The underlying, ever-recurring theme, is the figure (saintly, human or animal, with a degree of interchangeability) shown in an environment that is natural or man-made. Bacon thus is intelligible and his scene, blurred and veiled though it may be, remains recognizable. His painting — figurative in the ordinary sense of this term — is nevertheless unlikely to satisfy those who yearn for a return to old-time art, to a back-swing of the pendulum from abstraction to a naturalistic mode. 

Why should this be so? Chiefly, we believe, because Francis Bacon is so demanding and so incapable of fulfilling the hope for a comfortable art. With him, there is no release from tension, no lessening of the viewer's commitment. He is quite unable to afford such simple pleasures as constitute to many beholders the obvious function of art. Instead Bacon strains our viewing capacity to the utmost. Recognizability notwithstanding, he is more difficult to "understand" than many abstract painters. 

To approach the essence of Bacon's work, we must come to terms, intellectually or intuitively, with any number of complex thoughts of which a few may be summarized as follows: 

The relation of Bacon's images to his formal pursuits. This involves the subtle interplay between the artist's seemingly haphazard choice of subject matter and of the stylistic means through which he brings
 it to life.

A consideration of Bacon's probing disposition which instinctively reaches for images and for analogous pictorial means that touch upon essentials. He thereby forces us into questioning confrontations with basic attitudes, prejudices, and taboos and by so doing necessarily hurts us before affording such relief as comes from widened understanding. 

An understanding of the meaning of ugliness in art and the realization that horror can be sublimated through formal perfection into the most satisfying of harmonies. 

A consideration of pictorial space and its relation to our prevailing world view. For Bacon gives us a graphic extension of known reality, 
thereby leading us to rethink our placement as individuals in the world 
of our understanding. 

These and other issues are forced upon us by Bacon's relentless art. Since, once confronted, we cannot turn away, his propositions are most uncomfortable. The great reward held out to us is that through the comprehension of Francis Bacon's blurred vision, we shall see ourselves with greater clarity. 

The Francis Bacon exhibition and the accompanying catalogu
were prepared by Mr. Lawrence Alloway, Curator of this Museum, for presentation at The Solomon R. Guggenheim 
Museum in New York and The Art Institute of Chicago. 

Thomas M. Messer, Director, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum


I am grateful to Ronald Alley for his abundant contribution to the bibliography, to David Sylvester for making available documentary material, to James Thrall Soby and Sam Hunter for the kind loan of photographs, and to Richard Tooke of The Museum of Modem Art and Donna Topazia Alliata for assistance in obtaining photographs. 

I leant to thank the following members of the Museum's staff: Carol Fuerstein, editor of the catalogue and, with Maurice Tuchman, compiler of the bibliography; Alice Hildreth who worked closely on the exhibition since its inception. 

The Marlborough Fine Art Ltd. kindly obtained loans from European collections and, in particular, Mr. H. R. Fischer was resourceful and helpful. 

My thanks are due to the following for the contribution of color plates to the catalogue: Ted Weiner, Fort Worth: The Joseph H. 
Hirshhorn Foundation, New York; The Art Institute of Chicago; Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., London; and for the loan of existing color plates, Museo Civico di Torino and the Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., London. 

Lawrence Alloway, Curator, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum



A great deal of Bacon criticism has been devoted to a single aspect of his imagery. Because there are Popes that scream or solitary figures in hotel bedrooms, they have been identified as allegorical personifications of Melancholy or Dejection. The paintings have been treated as cultural symptoms, mirrors held up to an age in pieces, generalized moral lessons, rather than as individual expressions. The result is that Bacon, as an artist, has been dissolved, or inflated, into a cultural barometer. The writers who are responsible for this all see the present time in negative terms, so that Bacon becomes the laureate of Buchenwald, the Goya of the Early Space Age. Criticism of this kind makes for rather lively reading — far more exciting and emotional than art critics can usually manage to be. Metaphors of nightmare, breakdown, and crisis abound. Literary parallels are constantly invoked, such as Kafka, Beckett, Joyce (the sermon in A Portrait of the Artist as a young Man), and George Orwell (1984). Such writing derives from the original historical dramas of cultural historians who use works of art to embody moments of crisis, paths of decline, or crossroads of transition in culture. In their hands, the method is, at least, based on a thorough historical knowledge: time provides a perspective for their judgments. To write about a contemporary artist in this way, however, assumes a comprehensive grasp of our culture, which, while we live in it, as participants, we may not have. The meaning of our culture is incomplete until the future 
confers it. Thus, the reading of Bacon as the drama of a culture in crisis tends to be inconclusive as well as indulgent. There is, also, the awkward fact that if works of art are treated as signals of the state of culture, all art is significant in this way, and not simply the work of violent artists. Chardin, Vuillard, and Morandi must also be significant, and not only Goya, Picasso, and Bacon.

Though one objects to reading Bacon's art in terms of a melodrama of the human condition, this does not mean he should be considered a detached and aesthetic artist. On the contrary, he is an inveterate enemy of the idea of the dehumanization of art. to use Ortega's phrase for a widely held approach to art in the 19th and 20th centuries. A concise statement of this position is Cocteau's witticism in the dedication of Orphee: ''A painter may throw himself from the fifth storey, and the art-lover would only say: 'That makes a pretty splash'."1 The assumption is that human meaning is of negligible value compared to strictly held formal values. Bacon, however, has always put conspicuous human meanings in the foreground. In fact, it has been his strategy to conceal his formal concerns behind the spectacle of human action. When he blurs a face, it could be a wound, as well as a painterly decision; when he compresses a form, it is as much like an injury as an exercise in foreshortening. He makes formal meanings resemble painful human experiences. The marks of painting, including conspicuous signs of improvisation, become images of the movements of his figures or of their suffering.

It is, perhaps, time to try to write about Bacon as a painter, rather than as an allegorist of Angst, and about his works as paintings, rather than as documents of a 20th century problem, predicament, crisis, or what have you. Central to Bacons art is a dual time-sense. He has. it is true, an acute sense of topical images, rendered with immediacy, but he is also persistently aware of the past and its models. He has, for instance, paraphrased repeatedly Velasquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X (Doria Gallery). In the Van Gogh series he not only alluded to Van Gogh's The Road to Tarascon, but also, in the first Study for Portrait of Van Gogh, to Manet's Execution of the Emperor Maximilian (Boston Museum of Fine Arts). Hence, a buried, and thoroughly unexpected, connection is established between an image of Van Gogh, surely linked with our idea of a victim, and the figure of the sergeant of the firing squad on the right-hand side of Manet's sketch. In the fifth Study for Portrait of Van Gogh, the painter appears in a strong Art Nouveau style, as if painted by Munch. In the recent Three Studies for a Crucifixion, the corpse in the central panel is reminiscent of the bullet-pierced flesh of the corpses in Goya's Execution of May 3, 1808. There is, of course, a link between Goya's and Manet's firing-squad paintings. Persistent, though buried, connections of this kind are contained in Bacon's art linking it with the tradition of painting, though on his own terms.

Bacon's concern with tradition should not be translated immediately into the received picture of an individual in agreement with his inheritance. Tradition for him is not a snowball which he slightly enlarges by rolling it a little further on an established track. The past to Bacon is not a gallery of coherent prototypes which he modifies but whose dominance he does not question (the approach to tradition recommended by early 20th century classicists and conservatives). Tradition to Bacon seems to be a shifting bundle of models and influences in a problematic relationship with recent experiences. The records of the past are available in underground and personal ways: consider the irony and paradox involved in the Manet quotation or in the stylistic reference to, as it were, an unpainted portrait by Munch.

Bacon's allusions to Velasquez's Pope Innocent X are well-known. There is, however, another work which could only be known to Bacon in the form of a reproduction, a remarkable painting by Titian in the John G. Johnson Collection, Philadelphia. It represents a sitter, Cardinal Filippo Archinto, in a pose that anticipates the Velasquez, but with a transparent curtain hanging over half the painting. The face fades, the right eye is divided, and the hands are smeared through the material. This bizarre work seems to be one of the formative factors in Bacon's Study After Velasquez, 1953, in which theface is partially obscured by vertical folds of material. It is the history of art, as it contains curiosities and puzzles, as well as masterpieces, as a record of human action, rather than as a pure fountain head, which absorbs Bacon.

Of greater consequence, probably, than the presence of individual quotations from other artists, is the general reminiscence, in his work, of the Grand Manner. By Grand Manner, I mean the central tradition of European figure painting as it developed in the Renaissance and as it dominated all subsequent figure painting until the 20th century. Bacon's paintings preserve numerous allusions to the Grand Manner. The size of the canvas, the  placing of the figures within it, the gestures and poses of the figures depicted — all reveal an underlying structure of the Grand Manner format that has been thoroughly assimilated into a direct and natural way of working. These echoes of the past are not academic simulacra of past models; on the other hand, their persistence in Bacon's art differentiates him from abstract painters. In fact, even as the past is evoked by the structure of the paintings, it is 
questioned and undermined. A grand compositional display becomes a keyhole to intimacy. 
Within the format of the Grand Manner, human, spatial, and painterly cues are charged with fresh meanings. Within an heroic contour, for instance, a figure will be painted in an elliptical or perfunctory manner. Instead of the spatial coherence of the Grand Manner, figures fade against a black void, or are pressed forward by a flat color plane.

To Bacon, the Grand Manner is indispensable, as a frame against which to work, eroding and subverting it, but not removing it. He needs both the symbol of order, of which the Grand Manner provides an ample and long-lived example, and its opposite, intimate and unanticipated images. The two elements interlock, one giving body, one giving mystery, to the other. In this respect. Bacon can be compared to both Giacometti and de Kooning, but not to Dubuffet (whose human figures are flat and primitivistic). Giacometti's sitters are withered paraphrases of Baroque portraiture, with the tall grey studio behind them as the surrogate of column and curtain. De Kooning's Women preserved, through all the sweat and fruitiness of their paint, a basic seated pose, seen early in his 1938 Queen of Hearts, which derives from Renaissance originals. The interplay of flesh and dilapidation in de Kooning rests on a Grand Manner infra-structure. The point is that all three painters, unlike Dubuffet, are post-Raphaelite painters, with no desire to simplify, to strip off history and sophistication: they only want to make their own uses of it.

This act of preserving, knowingly, a form, while transforming it partially, produces an art which is highly ambiguous, to use a word that is continually employed in 20th century criticism. Surrealist images, which conflate different objects or classes of objects, are so-called, although, in fact, the effect is of a puzzle rather than of ambiguity. In the works of Bacon, Giacometti, and de Kooning (the Women, not the abstract paintings), it is the 
structure of the work itself which is ambiguous. It is partly the continuation of a past tradition in a confident and still viable form. It is, also, the reduction of the forms of this tradition to act as a container for an unexpected content, sometimes a disreputable one. The Grand Manner becomes, at times. Grand Guignol. Instead of being the paradigm of order, the format of the Grand Manner becomes merely a corral for wild beasts, freshly trapped. It is essential for Bacon to preserve a given and canonical form, against which he can work. His paint creates the form but, simultaneously, withholds its complete definition. The traditional composition and its heroic occupants are both raised and perpetuated, but, at the same time, they are parodied and damaged.

The use of orderly form, without confidence in its absoluteness, and the insertion of disturbing subjects into a pre-existing form, has analogies with Baudelaire. The regular stanzas and the classic structure of the line in his poetry divulged subjects and emotions foreign to the decorum usually associated with his structure. Similarly in Bacon, the apparatus of the Grand Manner supports a drastically changed iconography. In two early paintings by Bacon, for example, an umbrella is used; in both, the umbrella shields a figure, whose head appears to have been sheared through, cutting the top of the skull off. The incongruity of the umbrella, in scenes of such violence, should not block our memory of the fact that umbrellas were used, with fair frequency, in Baroque art, to protect the sitters of, for instance, Van Dyck and Le Brun. A covert and bizarre art historical reminiscence is set up, adding resonance to the shocking image.Bacon's nudes, often derived from motion studies of late 19th century males by Eadweard Muybridge, evoke the Grand Manner unmistakably. As the muscles rise, memories of Michelangelo and his followers are strong. Bacon's figures, of men exercising singly or in pairs, link with the modern tendency to take nudity in art literally. Looking at the 16th century's heroic nudes it is hard for us to separate the painted or carved figures from human anatomy. A potential of human reality within the ideal figures has been released, often at the expense of the symbolism originally identified with Mars or Vulcan or athletes (their physical well-being a code for virtue). Separated from iconography, Michelangelo's nudes are swung into a new context; his athletes take on the attributes of muscle-eroticism rather than Neo-Platonism. The tradition of Michelangelo's homosexuality is related, now, to the Sistine vault, which appears to us as though covered by gymnasts. Similarly, the males that Bacon paints imply a homosexual content. It is not a matter of recovering, after bourgeois suppression, the socially-sanctioned and culturally normal homosexuality of, say, a Greek poet. On the contrary, Bacon asserts the presence of latent homosexual meanings within the tableaux of the Grand Manner. As in Baudelaire the traditional theme changes within the known form, like fruit rotting in a bowl without outward change, or like a house adapted internally for different generations of inhabitants, but preserving an ancient façade.

One of the ways in which Bacon relates to the Grand Manner involves a special definition of man and space. In the Renaissance, the human body was defined as a solid, subject to physical laws, set in measurable space. The movements of the body in this space were highly adaptive and competent; able to fight, build, and love, good at selective tasks. Bacon is sensitive to this definition of space as the area that an individual can move in or reach. 
He abandons the objective ground plane of the Renaissance and organizes space around his human figures, outwards from the active agent. Bacon has used thrones, couches, cages, beds, canopies, booths, and the Cross to define the area of human movement. The recurring image is of a human being pinned to an intimate area of use. Our experience of what is close is different from our experience of what is distant, and Bacon (despite occasional landscapes) is basically a painter of near forms. His human image is persistently conceived in relation to intimate, touchable, reached areas of the world. The cradle within which the child is set, the bed on which we spend so much of our lives ; the table at which I am writing, or a telephone booth; a chair, or a Cross to which One has been nailed. The space beyond these islands of man's use is amorphous or inaccessible.

The spectator's relation to Bacon's pictorial space is highly participative. The figures, on or in their residual Renaissance structures, seem to be trespassed upon, rather than cooperatively posing for the artist. Or the artist himself (who becomes subjectively identified with the spectator) seems engaged in the acts of his figures. Curtains drop, heads loom in close-up, bodies are cut off by the frame, so that we feel a constant sense of privacy invaded and of personal involvement. Erwin Panofsky has pointed out that typical Renaissance treatises on perspective "devote much time and space to the construction of regular and semi-regular solids, of architectural features and of scenery," whereas it was difficult "to cope with the human body because of its utter irregularity. " This is the point at which Bacon's interest in the human body starts. To quote Panofsky again: the "variety of human movements" was rarely depicted as "the result of a continuous transition from one state to another." In fact, Bacon has made this theme his own, with his studies of transitional human movements flickering through the wrecked Grand Manner.

The use of elaborate presentational devices by Bacon is not immune to our special self-consciousness in the 20th century. We have become sceptically aware of the process of communication itself, recognizing the rhetorical functions of dress and gesture, and of the technical means themselves. The events of present history may be staged, because the participants know that they occupy a goldfish bowl. Thus, Bacon often turns the painting, self- 
consciously, into a tableau, a demonstration, a display. The fact of his frankness about the mechanics involved does not stop them from working. On the contrary, his knowledge links with the visual sophistication of the 20th century audience. In fact, the theme of death, which is constant in his work, occurs within the prepared scene. Some of his images of mortality recall the verisimilitude of death and decay presented in natural history museums in Europe. For instance, in the Zoologiske Museum, Oslo, there is "a group of African scavenger birds feasting upon the head of a dead zebra, with matter oozing out of eyes, nose, and mouth, and maggots competing with the birds. "
5This compound of an artificial presentation with a shocking image of corruption is Baconian.

It is important to determine the function of photographs in Bacon's art. He used a still of the injured nurse in The Battleship Potemkin in 1949 and subsequently around 1950 he began using motifs from the motion studies of Muybridge. Also in the early 50s he used Marius Maxwell's Stalking Big Game With a Camera in Equatorial Africa, though, as a rule, indirectly. The Popes of 1951 quote not only from Velasquez's Innocent X but, also, from a 
photograph of Pope Pius Xll carried on a sedia gestatoria through a room in the Vatican. This group of paintings is, incidentally, the first series showing successive, though mysterious, episodes. Here Bacon is producing some of his most fully realized works, as if he were aiming at a masterpiece, but at the same time, repeating the image with small changes, like a series of photographs or a comic strip.

What is the historical relation of photography to art? Obviously the belief that it would kill, or that it had killed, figurative painting satisfied only a few early 20th century polemicists. What photography did was to enlarge the scope of figurative painting by carrying the human image out of classical idealism. Delacroix recognized this clearly: "After having examined . . . photographs of nude models, some of them poorly built, overdeveloped 
in places and producing a rather disagreeable effect, I displayed some engravings bv Marcantonio. We had a feeling of repulsion, almost of disgust, at their incorrectness, their mannerism, and their lack of naturalness: and we felt these things despite the virtue of style."

Bacon's use of photographs is fully in line with this reading of photographs as non-hierarchic and un-planned fragments of real life. Thus, in his work, blurred forms and mysterious gestures, derived to some extent from photographs, occur within the context of the Grand Manner. A processional image becomes a scene of assault, like an assassination; wrestlers become lovers: figures in a room look like celebrities whose names and faces we can no longer keep together. Bacon simulates the grainy quality of photographs, especially when processed for reproduction, thus, depositing, as it were, bits of the world in his imposing pictures. Both texture and gesture derive, in Bacon's work, from photographic sources. The evasive nature of his imagery, which is shocking but obscure, like accident or atrocity photographs, is arrived at by using photography's huge repertory of visual images for all 
objects and events,
7 which permits connections between widely scattered phenomena (a human head and an ape's, for instance).

Human actions, when arrested in time, frozen at a brief moment, have a potential for mystery, inasmuch as the purpose and context of the action may be missing. Uncaptioned news photographs, for instance, often appear as momentous and extraordinary, though deeply human and anonymous. In his earlier work Bacon used this property of photographs to subvert the clarity of pose of figures in traditional painting. In place of the convention of explicit gestures in art, he developed a style of unpremeditated gesture, of the inadvertently and obscurely revealing, based on the expressions and movements that we all share and manifest unknowingly.

So important is the theme of motion that Bacon's development can be, perhaps, discussed in terms of a change in his approach to the problem. From 1949 to 1956 the movement of figures is indicated mainly by blurring the edges and opening the planes of forms. Forms are evoked by partial glimpses, diffused by atmospheric chiaroscuro, though the whole form is never questioned. There is plenty of space for the implied movement to take place. The effect is of spatial fullness and of the free occupancy of space by mobile and fugitive figures. In 19.56, though Bacon's interest in motion did not change, his way of handling it did. There is a new sharpness of contour and solidity (or, at least, continuity) of planes. Previously the whole figure was seen in motion, with each form retaining, however blurred or transparent, its integrity. The limbs might be hazy, but they were intact and in place. Later, however, motion is expressed by the compression of bounded and continuous forms. Thus, a turning head is indicated not by being smeary and blurred, but by being twisted; bodies, instead of fraying as they moved in time, are corkscrewed or dilated by successive movements, each phase of which is partially visible. It is possible that some reference to Futurism may be contained in the later figures. In the sliding and squeezing of anatomies there is a reminiscence of Umberto Boccioni's bronze sculpture Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913). What Bacon gives us, perhaps, is Boccioni's "ideal reconstruction of continuity" without the reference to machinery which geometrizes Boccioni's work. Instead of metallic surfaces, the figures are pulpy and vulnerable, as in the Three Studies for a Crucifixion, 1962.

A change in Bacon's color-range and paint-handling is related to this development. His earlier paintings are monochromatic, based on black and a restricted number of colors, clearly revealing a sympathy with Manet. The link with Manet is not casual, but a consistent parallel with an artist who preserved the Grand Manner format while painting improvisationally (and, to his critics, casually) within it. Bacon's paintings from 1945 to 1949 reveal, on the whole, a progressive move from a dense, stickily-textured surface, which hesitates between painterly and sculpturesque form, to a consistent painterly style. With the 50s comes an increasing lightness in the paint, which tends to be dry and dabbed on, so that forms are grazed and flicked into being. In 1952 this manner of painting became sparser, a kind of parched morse-code over dry canvas. Variations of this way of painting are consistent until 1956 when richer color and more unified planes appear. By 1959 an unprecedented clarity of color puts, as it were, the formerly shadowy figures of Bacon into the light of day; and the light, combined with Bacon's use of literal effects of foreshortening, shows that the figures resemble cripples.

Although Bacon's work reveals change when viewed chronologically, he is not one of those artists whose work needs to be seen in sequential order for its full realization. He wall hit on an image, with apparent suddenness, and then use it repeatedly, in variations which are not necessarily resolvable into a logical procedure. References back and forth between different versions of the basic images, create a denser layer of meaning than any of the works singly. For instance, the various paintings of the Crucifixion add to one another, but without revealing an ideological change between the 1950 and 1962 versions. His work is, perhaps, best viewed as a cluster of images, which he has invented and elaborated, returning to them over and over again.

Lessing has discussed the problem of the scream in art: "The simple opening of the mouth, apart from the violent and repulsive contortions it causes in the other parts of the face, is a blot on a painting and a cavity in a statue productive of the worst possible effect."9 "Imagine Laocoon's mouth open, and judge. Let him scream, and see. It was, before, a figure to inspire compassion in its beauty and suffering. Now it is ugly, abhorrent, and we gladly avert our eyes from a painful spectacle."10 It is clear that Bacon's human image continually violates the canon of Lessing. The scream is a recurring theme of Bacon's art; sometimes an early painting seems to be little more than a mouth, "a blot." It is imagery of this kind which called forth the criticism mentioned earlier. My point is not that Bacon is not a painter of grotesque and gruesome effects, but that these effects occur within the context of 
art. and not merely as reflexes to an historical moment.

If one characterizes Bacon as a painter of the grotesque it must be with certain reservations. He is not a painter of fantasy that transcends earthly reality or makes jokes out of it. He neither projects "the dreams of painters," in free-wheeling imagination, nor does he pursue compounds of human and other forms in a metamorphic game. He is not, for instance, much like Fuseli who, though he invented a personal iconography of terror and 
nocturnal effects, treated his figures and objects in a stylized and disembodied manner. Bacon always presupposes, and aims to convince us of, a substantial core to his paintings, human and solid. One function of his use of photographs is interference with the Grand Manner, but we read the interference as evidence of life and the human presence in the painting. In fact. Bacon is in line with that branch of the theory of the grotesque' which stresses the preservation of a basis in visual, observable fact. Although the monstrousness of the subject may be brought out, it is continually checked by correspondence to its model.

The technical means by which Bacon represents motion in time, within the spatial art of painting, are closely linked to his content. The way he manipulates the paint is inseparable from the impression of flesh and mortality with which he is preoccupied. Just as he preserves the Grand Manner as a normative framework, which he stretches but does not abandon, so he keeps the human contour legible through all deformations. The imagery of 
forms in motion becomes metaphoric of the way time, in longer periods, destroys bodies. Bacon's figures are represented in action, but, also, as subject to accelerations of time's process. Through motion studies. Bacon arrives at an imagery of death. In the small paintings of heads, his free handling identifies the paint with human flesh, which seems to be separating from the head and admitting sight of the skull. Death is, for Bacon, the point of reality which gives meaning to everything else; his grotesque imagery, therefore, leads directly to his sense of the factual. Erich Auerbach has pointed out that "in the 19th century the work 'realism' was associated chiefly with the crass representation of ugly, sordid and horrifying aspects of life."
12 Bacon, who has certainly inherited this association, can be, simultaneously, grotesque and realistic.

Lawrence Alloway



1. Jean Cocteau. Five Plays, New York, 1961, p. 8. 

2. Pointed out by Mark Roskill in his "'Bacon as a Mannerist," which he kindly allowed nie to read in manuscript. 

3. Erwin Panofsky. The Codex Huygens and Leonardo da Vinci's Art Theory, London. Warburg Institute, 1940. 

4. Ibid. 

5. A. E. Paar. "Realism and Romanticism in Museum Exhibits," Curator, New York, vol. 6, no. 2, 1963, p. 174. 

6. Eugene Delacroix. Entry, Saturday, May 21. 1853, The Journal of Eugene Delacroix, Translated by Walter Pach, New York, 
Crown, 1948, p. 314. 

7. Examples of the kind of photograph that Bacon has used are found in Amedee Ozenfant's Foundations oj Modern Art 

(new edition. New York, Dover, 1952), a possible source book. These are: a blurry photograph of a chimpanzee (p. 5), closer t:i 
Bacon's chimpanzee paintings of 1953 and 1955 than anything in Marius Maxwell; "Sir Austin Chamberlain as seen in a 
Distorting Mirror" (p. 59) ; and a man carrying a monkey (p. 174). T. B. Hess has reported de Kooning's observation that 
"a glance at a newspaper photograph or television report shows an incident in a city street that also might be happening in an 
open field or Hollywood bowl" ( Willem de Kooning, New York, Braziller, 1959). Thus the photographic media can give a 
sense of immediacy while denying our sense of location. 

8. Ronald Alley suggested, in his excellent notes to the catalogue of the Francis Bacon exhibition. Tate Gallery, 1962, 
that the Albright-Knox Art Gallery's Man with Dog, 1953, referred to Balla's Leash in Motion, seen in London in 1952. 

9. Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. Laocoon. An Essay Upon the Limits of Painting and Poetry, New York, Noonday. 1961. p. 14. 

10. Ibid, p. 13. 

11. Wolfgang Kayser. The Grotesque: Art and Literature, Indiana, University of Indiana Press, 1963. 

12. Erich Auerbach. "The Aesthetic Dignity of the 'Fleurs de Mai'," Scenes from the Drama of European Literature, New York, 
Meridian, 1959. 


Exhibition October, 1963~January, 1964 

3000 copies of this catalogue, designed by Herbert Matter, have been produced by Fred M. Kleeberg Associates in October 1963 for the Trustees of The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation on the occasion of this exhibition of Francis Bacon











A BIRMINGHAM-HOUSED oil painting, Figures in a Landscape by the modern artist Francis Bacon, is to be the radio Picture of the Month for June. The painting, bought by Birmingham Art Gallery about six years ago, will be the subject of a twenty-minute talk by David Piper, of the National Portrait Gallery on the first Sunday afternoon in the month.

Mr. Piper has selected this contemporary work because, he says, he considers Mr. Bacon “a tremendous painter.”




The search for ambiguity


Francis Bacon. By John Rothenstein and Ronald Alley.

Thames and Hudson. £7  7s.





THE APPEARANCE of this handsome books marks the final stage in the canonization of Francis Bacon. In his introduction, Sir John Rothenstein says the expected things gracefully enough, without casting much new light on the subjectwe see him bestowing that paradoxical blessing which the Establishment sometimes reserves for those who have most defied it. Ronald Alley's catalogue raisonné seems to be a model of its kind concise, yet full and accurate. We are left to confront as best we may the extraordinary phenomenon presented by the painter himself, and by his public reputation. As one turns the pages, it is interesting to speculate how highly future generations will value these picturesthe shifting, ectoplasmic images which Bacon uses so obsessively: the Popes, the dogs, the baboons, the cowering nudes. I cannot myself think of any painter whose future impact is so much in doubt. It must be in doubt, because Bacon strikes such a contemporary chord. He has more than once been compared to Fuseli, not altogether justly. Bacon's vein of horror runs deeper and truer than Fuseli's histrionic exploitation of violence and nightmare. And his fame is now more widespread than any which Fuseli managed to enjoy.

But one does detect at least one similarity. Fuseli's admirers revelled in his most extreme qualities, just as Bacon's do. The note of hysteria, then and now, was regarded as a complete justification of what the painter was up to. Posterity has made Fuseli pay for this by turning him into a sort of comic turn. 'The Nightmare' is a work which we enjoy though our consciousness of its absurdities; we find a sort of innocence in its use of symbolism which makes us feel superior; we like its energy but stand aside from its mood. Of course, the usual excuse we make for this change of heart is that Fuseli is pre-Freudian, and therefore, in our terms, unsophisticated. With Bacon, the post-Freudian hysteric, we start levelwe must identify ourselves with what is going on in the picture, and cannot view it with detachment. History seems to show that this sort of total identification with the work of art does not bode well for its future reputation.

Yet at the same time, it is possible to feel that the whole trend of modern art has been one of hostility to the idea of the permanent, and that this makes irrelevant the considerations I have outlined above. Art is now something to be used and thrown away, like so many other things in our culture. Yet in this case our approach to Bacon should be radically different from the one which we usually adopt. Bacon is often discussed in terms of content, and the fact that this marks him as a literary painter. One looks for parallels to Bacon's celebrated amoralism not in other painters but in the work of a writer like Genet. And Bacon's work has had eloquent advocates among writer; the reason being that, like so much other literary painting, it offers a good springboard for philosophical reflection. Even professional art critics find it almost impossible not to treat Bacon's work as allegory. Mr Alley quotes Robert Melville's remark that the figure in the now-destroyed painting 'Man at Curtain' is 'going through the motions of a privacy that is quite illusory'. But how can one be sure that this is what the figure is really doing? It is at this point that discussion of Bacon's technique begins to be the same thing, or almost the same thing, as the discussion of the moral content of his pictures. For the outstanding characteristic of Bacon the technician has always been the search for ambiguity. This, indeed, is the thing which makes him a pioneer figure, instead of a merely contemporary one; ahead, not just in step. Bacon's work if fifteen years ago already predicts the look of recent work by a painter like Robert Rauschenberg. Bacon borrows his imagery, and to some extent the texture, of his work from photographs, but still courts the effects of accident. A picture like 'Study from the Human Body', painted by Bacon as long ago as 1949, is really not much different in technique from a recent Rauschenberg, such as 'Barge'.

Bacon, however, cannot resist hinting at some sort of permanent, traditional value, at a numinousness which has nothing to do with the spontaneity of his actual handling. In this way his work loses validity, even for the present moment.

It is said that Gainsborough owed his success with his contemporaries chiefly to his skill in catching likeness. Yet if we look at Gainsborough's portraits, we see that those parts of them which most establish resemblancethe corners of he mouth, the modelling of the eye-socketsare deliberately left ambiguous. Gainsborough's sitters and their friends, when they looked at his work, always found enough latitude there; they could create for themselves whatever likeness they wanted to find. Bacon invites us to project into his work our own fantasies, our own moral attitudes. In place of the impassivity implied by adherence to the momentary, he courts his audience a great deal, flatters it by hints of blood, violence, and sex which are carefully left undefined. Repeated study of the reproductions in this book suggests to me that at the heart of many of the pictures lies, not a genuine uprush of spontaneous imagery, but a perfectly cool, and rather shallow and unpleasing, manipulation of the feelings of the spectator. The artist stands apart. The viewer who hopes to be assaulted is merely duped. Bacon is still the most important painter working in England. But is his talent as weighty as this massive tome implies?  




                                               ‘Figure with meat’, 1954: from Francis Bacon






Painting of the month


         Francis Bacon’s

‘Figures in a Landscape’ 


                                by DAVID PIPER





AT WHITSUN I lay under the apple-tree in the dappled sun and projected this picture, that I was committed to say something about, as I could remember it, on to the blank brick wall of the cottage beyond the apple-tree, as though it were a lantern slide. I remembered it, bluish green and yellowish green, an upright rectangle, the foreground rather blurry as if unfocused in the foreground of a photograph; the background beyond at the top of the picture closed with definition by darker blue-green verticals striped as if it were a fence of palings, or perhaps the still folds of a curtain drawn, or perhaps, if grass could grow as dark green-blue like broccoli, a hedge of tall stalks along the edge of a field. Between these two areas the whole middle distance of the picture is taken up by the depression of a yellowish-green arena; you look down on it from a little above, and in it, quite close, is a fleshy mass, sallowish flesh, a naked figure, stooped or hunched or crouched: stooped in strain over something, a face hidden from you, dropped behind the shoulder, and behind the arm that reaches down, is involved, grappled with something that seems, you have the impression, to be lying on its back, its feet toward you, its kneed up. It is only the contraction of the knees that you see this second figure, for the knees obscure the rest of it, and the hand of the first figure reaching down into it. But what is going on is not explicit; even the anatomies are not explicit; the figures seem to be human, and male, anyway the crouching one, but if he had fur he could be an ape. But whatever the figures are, the relationship between them is close, intimate, and also violent; it could, as half-revealed to you, be of the violence of a kind of love, it could equally well be of murderbut what is palpable to the receiving senses of the onlooker is that the relationship is far from a comfortable one, that somehow it may well be fatal: and yet that it is also very intimate to the two participants, indeed private, and for all that they disport their hideous business as in a public arena, one is overlooking, intruding.

On a holiday afternoon in the placid countryside, I had no wish either to intrude upon horror or to be intruded upon by horror, so I switched off this memory. Through the branches was the sky, oceans of blue air. Almost never can you glimpse the sky in a Bacon picture. Positively not Bacon weather. But when (next morning) I opened the paper I saw that I was quite wrong and that at any time and in all weathers it is Bacon weather. On the front page was a photograph. It was a good photographarresting, I mean as composition; it showed a group of young men at play at the seaside, a swirl of vigorous bodies, well-dressed, well-combed, as if in ritual stomp, legs and arms working about some central object that one could not see because it was obscured by a half-reclining figure in the foreground. Some of the men's faces were visible, and their expressions seemed those of men exercising a skill: they could have been footballers intent on capturing a ball.

But you will have guessedas I did not, not having been following the Whitsun news that this was a photograph of a group of Mods on Margate beach in the great Whitsun rumble, and it was no ball to which they addressed themselves but the prostrate body of some human victim on the sunny playground of Margate sands. As soon as I had taken in the caption under the photograph, the image of the prancing young men took on an entirely new significance, as my knowing mind informed it, so it turned into a sickening record of human viciousness, of arbitrary and unreasonable violencea drawing-back of the decent curtain of civilization that normally veils the jungle of our more appalling and secret motives.

For a little I looked hard at the photograph. Sickening, I saidyet if I were clearly dispassionate enough to be able to sort out my immediate instinctive reactions to it they would probably prove to be very mixed : outrage, of course, of the decent citizen when decency is disturbed, but compounded wit this a fascination, an acknowledgement of the magnetism that drew and held the spectator crowds at Margate to watch the young men fight, looking and not looking ; and also some sense of identification perhaps both with victim and attackers. Not thoughts to flatter one's self-esteem, so pretty soon I did as I guess most readers of the newspaper that morning didtried to banish the whole thing by turning the paper over to see how the cricket scores stood. But I think even before I did this I was aware that part of my indignation was against the sheer inadequacy of the photograph, for until I had read the caption the image had conveyed nothing of the essential brutality of the scene.

But perhaps it was not the camera that was inadequate, so much as the human body itself ; the range of expression of the human face and limbs is in the end limited and often ineloquent about the emotion they contain and the springs behind their action. It is not in fact enough ; a man in the extreme of violent emotion feels that it must break the instrument of his body ; yet though he confront it, open his mouth, scream, scrunch up his face, it is not enough, and if you take a photograph of him doing this the result shown to someone who does not know the context can even be funny. This brought me back to the painting of Francis Bacon who is never very funnyat least I have never heard the ghost of a laugh in front of his picturesand whose business is to paint the human body in ideal terms, as if it could register in its flesh, and express, the living tragedy of the human situation. His paintings, he himself has said, are 'an attempt to make a certain type of feeling visual'.

In a twentieth-century context

But I have still to get to the actual painting itself. It is a biggish painting, five feet high, so that its central figures, though less than life-scale, still loom large. It is not framed behind glass, though Bacon rather likes his paintings to be glazed, partly for technical reasonshe does not use varnishand partly because the spectator can thus add haphazardly an extra dimension to the image, floating his own reflection in the glass over it. As a picture, it is, in a twentieth-century context, conceived in what may seem a traditional convention, as are almost all his paintings : that is, basically in what is now the old-fashion convention according to which you look in depth into the picture as into a picture window. The foreground, blurred as it is when you look at something in the middle distance, slides your eye effortlessly in to concentrate on the main subject, while the background at the top of the picture is closed, indeed shut, by that hedge of blue-green verticals ; and the centre defined, fairly shapely, by the roughly ellipse shape, the loaded metallic grey-blue line that marks the edge of the arena, the wrestling pit, wherein is the prime centre of attention, the two flesh-coloured figures in the turbulent greenand yet, though the whole picture bears in on them for focus, it is precisely focus that they refuse, rejecting exact definition and comprehension. 'The particular thing I'm trying to do', Bacon has said '[is] to make a chaos in an isolated area'.

This is his usual formula: in a smaller picture, isolating the main feature, the chaos that is a human head, by floating it on a dark neutral background, unprimed canvas stained rather than painted; in more elaborate compositions the shock of chaos may be enhanced by a setting in the most normal, if often rather chic, furniture, clearly and boldly painted, beds, chairs. Or again, narrowing down on his central subject, he can isolate it further by what may seem an arbitrary structure, a cage with rods or tubes, or oftenand this is his most famous devicewith a sort of transparent container, as if his subject were in a glass box. The effect of this building-in on to the main subject is naturally constrictive; the feeling that he is trying to make visual is always claustrophobic, yet the prisons that he paints seem also self-imposed; it is as though the flesh were melting and re-fusing in the prison torture of the mind.

Baffling forms

The forms that this mental torment make flesh take on under this bush are fascinating and baffling. Every week H-films invent some new image of horror, but the image is always too obviously invented, contrived, for a lasing impact. It is the virtue of Bacon's creatures that they seem indisputably to be of our flesh and blood, and many critics have noted in themselves a compulsive identification with them; as if in some extreme of private agony you were to look in a mirror and see your agony stand there mutating your body. His men and women organic and in movement, as we are organic and for ever in restless movement. And they are in the mid-twentieth century extremely topical; we see them in a frame of reference provided by the concentration camps, the gas-chambers, the H-bomb, in our knowledge of horror unavoidably welded into consciousness by newspapers, films, and television as never before; by the literature of claustrophobia, from Kafka to Sartre and Orwell, a mood still relevant as in parts of some of William Golding's novels. But Bacon is the first to have succeeded in painting a portrait of this, our knowledge in action in human life. Not all critics admit he has succeeded, and find that in the last resort he fails to transmute his material into art. In the long run they may be proved right, when the frames of reference in which future generations will see the paintings has shifted, but for the moment Bacon's power to touch the onlooker's nerves transcends frontiers, and he has for a painter a huge audience.

But how can chaos be presented in an organised picture? The idea seems self-contradictory. Looking at the 'Figures in a Landscape', doing whatever they are doing, you can decipher something of Bacon's characteristic ambiguousness of presentation. The chief figure, the crouching one, is in part fairly naturalistically rendered; the arm, for example, has the gesture and shape of muscle of an arm. The body is more puzzling, bruised anyway, bashed and then humped as if malformedyet acceptable (my eye at least does accept it) as a convincing transcription of a heavily built torso heaving in an awkward position. It is convincing perhaps partly because the painter has studied closely photographs of the body in action, both human and animal bodies, and there seems here to be some sort of fusion of human and simian energy.

A heavy body in paint

It is then, while very broadly and freely painted, convincing as an equivalent in paint of a squatting and heavy body. Yet as you look you can see the painter had drawn across its lower part, in that grey-greeny blue, in one swirl an equivalent of a thigh folded on calf. It is a good swirl, but it may seem, read close to, as if in a different language from the general massing of the body. And then, across the top of the torso, in the same colour again, a rough zigzag scrawl of the brush, and the part this plays in the painting may be hard to integrate ; it is rather as if the painter had chosen to finish the picture, deface it almost, with a swear-word. 'Oh Lord forgive us for we know what we do'. And then perhaps, still close to, uncertain if this does all add up, your eye may catch the most illusionistic everyday passage in the painting of the bodies: the head is hunched deep in the shoulders, the face hidden, but the ear is there, indicated by a swift gesture of whitish paint, its centre marked by a great blob in high relief of reddish white paint; and above the ear drawn back across the low cranium there is a sleek of grey hair, combed, barbered almostcoiffuredlying true and flat and trim almost as if quoted from a hair-cream advertisement.

As medley, all this close to is disconcerting, but step back and in my eye it adds up all right. Bacon we know relies a great deal on chance and accident in painting; never more so perhaps than at the time this was painted in 1956, when I guess he was influenced to some extent by American example. He tends to see an image, to start painting, and then to find it transformed by the paint itself. Yet accident, just as the exploitation of accident, are both created by the painter's hand and body, and, when harnessed successfully, work together in one rhythm. Writing of Matthew Smith's work, which he admires, Bacon noted the tendency towards 'a complete interlocking of image and paint, so that the paint is the image and vice versa. Here the brush-stroke creates the form and does not merely fill it in'. And this applies equally to the best of Bacon's work, welding apparently quite disparate matters into one significance of paint and image.

I fear I may seem not to have begun to answer the questions that may be foremost in the minds of some, particularly perhaps of those who look rarely or reluctantly at contemporary painting. Questions like 'Why do you like it?' 'What's it about anyway?' or 'What's it for?'

The first is easy. I don't like it, and in excellent company with he painter himself, though for not the same reasons. Bacon has said that he has no interest in his work once done. 'How can I?' he said, ' . . . when I don't like it'. In fact, 'Do you like it?' in such a case is irrelevant. 'Like' is not a word one would use seriously of, for example, King Lear, and Bacon's paintings are of that class if not quite of that order. But the old phrase 'as pretty as a picture' dies hard, and I find many people still assess paintings by standards they would never dream of applying to literature or any other art.

About the question 'What's it about?' I have been fencing all through this talk. The subject-matter of this painting is close to that of the Whit Monday photograph: an image of creatures in the grip of irrational and probably vicious violence. But the content of the final painting is, unlike the photograph, far more than the sum of the component parts of the subject-matter; the content involves a very general statement on the tragic nature of human life, upon what man does to man and what man does to himself in the ineluctable passage of blind time. Bacon is always concerned with time, and so with movement. The content involves not only actionbut also the apparently impalpables of action: the ambiguous tensions between executioner and victim, between participants and onlookers and between onlookers and onlookers of onlookers.

In the hedge of verticals that shuts the top of the picture, just over the two figures there is a suggestion of a reflection of the curve of the crouching figure's backlike a fragment, a ripple, of the concentric waves of force, or expanding halo, that a stone thrown sets up in a pond. The implications well out, obscure but potent, from the vibrant central image, but they are not implications that one can nail down in wordsif they had been, Bacon would have written them. The content of the picture is the paint that is the image, a feeling made visible.

And 'What's it for?' For the artist a stage in his compulsive need to realize an ever-shifting evasive image. But for usnot a picture to hand on one's wall, to live with; too disturbing, not comfortable; even though it has things that can charmthere is a glow of violet for example, in the shadow cast by the crouching figure among the slashed greens and yellows and ochres, as though the eye had struck a jewel open in a bed of crude ore. But for me, no, not to live with, even though many do live with Bacon paintings. It is not a domestic matter; the connections are with the soul and with fate. Pictures of such import used to be hung in churches, but now we hang them in art galleries, as this one at Birmingham.

Some critics have objected that Bacon fails in terms of tragic catharsis, but I am never happy about the application of that term in paintings, the act of participation is so different. For me Bacon's paintings are not wilfully destructive, not merely morbid, and rarely in the bad sense sensational. They seem rather to supply a visual identity for certain phases of consciousness, and once a thing is identified, one's hope of perhaps not exorcising it, but of exercising it, of coping with it, is enhanced, and with that the scope of life is enhanced. Bacon, though perhaps willy-nilly as far as he is concerned, is one of the major prophets in paint of our time, as richly eloquent in his imagery as any prophet of the Old Testament.Third Network




                             ‘Figures in a Landscape’ (1956), by Francis Bacon






Robert Melville has a look at a book about


Francis Bacon





If the history of public interest in 20th-century painting could be written in detail, the response to Francis Bacon's retrospective exhibition held at the Tate Gallery in the summer of 1962 would probably turn out to have been England's 'finest hour'. Whenever I was at the exhibition, I met people who had reacted to his previous shows with vague suspicion or downright animosity, and others who were there for a bit of shiver or had drifted in for want of something better to do, and I recall very vividly how they began to tread quietly and talk in low tones. Suddenly they were overawed by the grandeur of the work, and whatever it was that opened their eyes to the magic of it, they became for a while the solemn witnesses of an enveloping and wonderfully sustained vision of human dignity.

The entries in the catalogue of the exhibition were compiled by Ronald Alley, and they were so fascinating and so evidently the result of intensive research that he was invited to attempt a catalogue raisonne of Bacon's paintings. The outcome is the most thoroughly documented monograph* on the English painter that has ever been published during the artist's lifetime.

Even the details of provenance afford food for speculation. Some of the pictures have already passed through several collections, shuttling to and fro across the Channel or the Atlantic, as if in some way the restlessness of the images were keeping them  on the move, and the fact that in a number of cases the last-named owner is a dealer in London, New York, Milan or Paris implies that their wanderings are not yet over. In the list of 'abandoned pictures' the details of ownership sometimes start with initials which mask the identities of two young painters who were given the canvases to use for paintings of their own, but who would seem to have allowed them to slip into the market.

Some of the pictures have been known by various titles in the past: one of them now catalogued as Study for Innocent X has been entitled Red PopeRed Pope on Dais and Red Figure on a Throne, although it was only painted in 1962. All the pictures listed in the catalogue will now be known once and for all by the titles given them by Alley, but he must have had some difficulty in coming to a decision in many cases. I notice for instance, that some paintings are simply entitled Pope, but I don't think Bacon himself has ever given one of his pictures such a title. He has not been altogether averse to a title like Study after Velázquez's Portrait of Innocent X, but has more often preferred something less communicative. He named every one of a series of eight paintings of a pope Study for Portrait, and when I was working with Erica Brausen at the Hanover Gallery we used to call them 'cardinals' rather than 'popes' in the presence of visitors, to make sure that no one was offended.

Every known painting up to the summer of 1963 is reproduced in the book and whilst they disclose some remarkable changes and developments, particularly in the treatment of the head and the nude, they also convey very powerfully the constancy of vision. This is quite dramatically evident in the correspondence between two famous triptychs, eighteen years apart, which are reproduced in colour. In a recent conversation with the Editor of Cambridge Opinion, Bacon spoke of a certain kind of organic form as an alternative to the creation of the human image which 'could open up all sorts of possibilities, probably of a secondary intensity', and actually his first triptych, the Three Studies for Figures at the base of the Crucifixion, executed in 1944, was a contribution to this kind of organic invention.

The form bears a relation to the human figure but are placed outside the human pale by extreme distortion and the sense they convey of existing in a state of total and perpetual rage. Alley records that Bacon has referred to them in a letter as sketches for the Eumenides. (The word means 'gracious ones' and is a propitiary name for the Furies who exist for the purpose of avenging crimes against the ties of blood.) These figures seem to me to establish a curious and subtle link with the pieces of meat in the left-hand panel of the later triptych called Three Studies for a Crucifixion painted in 1962.

In Alley's note on the recent work he states that the pieces of meat were included because Bacon 'has always been moved by photographs of slaughterhouses and meat, which have about them the smell of death, which he associates with the crucifixion'. Sides of beef have appeared in a number of his paintings as a kind of affront to the the living flesh, but in the triptych they are on the verge of becoming 'personages'organic inventions. They lean towards one another as if in whispered conference and bring meat and the Eumenides into collusion. They could be called the natural enemies of 'hollow traditions and reassuring myths'. I understand such forms to be of 'secondary intensity' because they serve a more restricted purpose than Bacon's human images. They set the limit within which man has being and becoming, and set them firmly in the finite world. They are noticeably less involved than the human figures in the process which is Bacon's chief preoccupation and which he calls 'the complete interlocking of image and paint'. They could in fact be formed by linear means; but the nervous tissue and infinite restlessness of his human images are unthinkable in linear terms.

The introductory essay by Sir John Rothenstein is even more closely associated with the Tate exhibition than Alley's fine job of documentation, for it is a very slightly amended version of the essay which appeared in the catalogue. It is gracefully done. It includes some valuable information and illuminating fragments of conversations with the artist, but Sir John's attempt to steer a middle course between Bacon's detractors and his 'most ardent advocates', his attempt, in other words, to take a calm judicious, moderate view of Bacon's inordinate contribution to contemporary painting, supported by a less than careful scrutiny of the paintings themselves, presents a distorted view.

When Sir John refers to 'the element of sheer horror' in Bacon's work, he tries to avoid discussing it by saying that it is 'too conspicuous to call for emphasis', whilst taking Alloway to task for describing it as 'fast-dating Grand Guignol' and 'creaking melodrama'. Yet it is clear that he half accepts Alloway's contemptuous assessment of it, for he lamely adds that 'the element of Grand Guignol plays in any case a diminishing part in Bacon's work', and supports his claim by remarking that the 'stage properties by which he means the transparent boxes, the railings, the curtains and even the 'illimitable darkness'–have now been discarded and replaced by 'full daylight' and 'commonplace pieces of furniture' Quite apart from the difficulty I have in associating the light to which some of Bacon's later figures are exposed with the light of day, and in squaring Sir John's remarks about the furniture with his surprising admission in the next sentence that it assumes unexpected shapes 'nearly as expressive as the figures themselves', I feel obliged to point out that what he calls the stage properties have  not been discarded. In Study for Portrait on Folding Bed, painted in the Spring of 1963, which is in the Tate collection and must be well-known to Sir John, the bed is enclosed by a transparent box and a swirl of railing.

In fairness to Alloway, I think it should be said that the article from which Sir John quotes and which has so evidently influenced his attitude to Bacon's imaginative spatial devices, includes a valuable account of his use of paint to convey the sense of movement. The destructive side of the article was aimed more at my kind of advocacy of Bacon than at Bacon himself, and in trying to ridicule my insistence on the importance of the extreme situations in his work he was more or less compelled to ridicule the paintings in which they occur. At the time, he himself was publicizing action painting, another kind of extreme situation, rather less relevant to the human situation: he has since mounted a notable retrospective exhibition of Bacon's work in New York.

Sir John mentions Nietzsche as one of the writers Bacon constantly re-reads, and something he wrote in The Genealogy of Morals has a bearing on a recent remark of Bacon's: 'I have deliberately tried to twist myself but I have not gone far enough.' Nietzsche wrote that it is the self-tyranny and delight of the artist to 'give form to himself as a piece of difficult, refractory and suffering material'. Bacon sets no limits to his self tyranny. What more can be done he will do.

Francis Bacon. Introduction by John Rothenstein. Catalogue raisonne and documentation by Ronald Alley. With 27 colour plates and 260 monochrome plates. (London: Thames and Hudson). 7 guineas.




                    Nude, 1961 78 X 56 in.  Marlborough Fine Art Ltd.





The Daemon of Bacon







Lytton Strachey has a vivid image of the impossibility of probing to the depths of Gladstone's mind in picturing an explorer led through wandering mazes to look at last into the gulf of a crater:

The flames shot out on every side, scorching and brilliant; but in the midst there was a darkness.

Incongruous as the two figures are, the painter Francis Bacon poses his own riddle of a brilliant imaginative flame leaping out of an impenetrable darkness which has led many explorers to its gulf. Il terribile Bacon, An Acute Sense of Impasse, Un Peintre hallucine—under such titles have writers skirted the psychological stresses which have surfaced in Bacon's act of painting his single figures lolling on bedsteads, shrieking behind a glass cabinet, or struggling together in an unsavoury stew. Such torment strongly suggesting a masochistic undercurrent, allied to Bacon's imaginative power, finds expression in images often of universal significance. Again and again the spectator will discover vague apprehensions of his own made palpable, and imaginatively share the endurance of humanity at breaking-point under relentless gruelling, or subjected to high-pressure tests. Whether shown in London, Paris or New York, this achievement still draws the expectant, motionless knots of spectators appearing to await a miracle. Yet it is hardly surprising that the disorder of the painter's impulsive, noctambular existence, together with the problems of tracing his pictures (many of them destroyed), have so far discouraged a properly documented study of Bacon's life and work. It is fortunate that now, at fifty-four, our most 'influential painter can benefit from so scrupulous and admirably illustrated a catalogue raisonné as Mr. Alley's, prefaced with a perceptive critical essay by the director of the Tate.* He draws naturally on some fugitive published pieces, but he has also questioned the artist with delicacy and placed his early background in perspective.

A collateral descendant of his Elizabethan namesake, Francis Bacon happened to be born in Dublin because his father, retired from the Army, had gone there to train horses. A bad asthmatic as a child, Francis was allergic to horses. His father was allergic to education. Francis had only one year's formal education in his life—at Dean Close, Cheltenham, where his father was enjoying his second retirement. At sixteen Bacon moved to London, and spent the next years getting by with a string of odd jobs in France and Germany. His first impressions of the corrupt life of Berlin in the Twenties were to work on his consciousness of situations of crisis. It was not yet, however, as a painter of humankind in extreme situations, but as an advanced interior decorator and designer of furniture and rugs that Bacon began his fitful London practice in the late Twenties. One of his commissions was furnishings for the Smith Square house of Mr. R. A. Butler, an alert patron already aware of the conspicuous intelligence of Roy de Maistre, the painter from whom Bacon was picking up ideas in their Queensberry Mews studio. A discovery is the re- productions of the stylish studio of these hidden years, showing Bacon's hand in the stylised functionalism of his writing desk with his earliest Surrealist art inspired by Picasso on the wall, signalling the dernier cri of interior design in 1930. Unimaginable experience has intervened between this and a 1957 photograph of the artist brooding over the disarray of Battersea studio.

Towards the end of the last war (when he was, for a time, in Civil Defence) his obsessive imagery emerged most formidably. The preface does not mention Graham Sutherland's help and encouragement to his friend at this crucial stage, with the return benefit of enigmatic devices which have served Sutherland's disturbing apparitions since. In 1944 Francis Bacon broke through with his terrible reptilian creatures, the Tate's triptych of the Eumenides, which he has always intended to use at the base of a large Crucifixion. Even in colour reproduction, the bandaged image of the Furies seems again to twitch under scrutiny, as when one first gazed at these embodiments of panic terror crouched against their orange background, at the Hanover Gallery. Faithless himself, the de' humanised spectres of his passion-tide have been to Bacon, as to Sutherland, a recurring obsession.

The catalysts of Bacon's art are to be seen in the accumulation of newspaper and magazine clippings with reproductions of Velázquez, Rembrandt, Grünewald, which festoon his studio. Such sources as a close-up of the screaming nurse from the film The Battleship Potemkin, Muybridge's photograph of naked wrestlers, people rushing for shelter in the Russian Revolution, have fed Bacon's blurred, irrational images in which his intelligence and violent undertow have worked together with the chanciness of painting. 'Real painting,' he has said himself, 'is a mysterious and continuous struggle with chance—mysterious because the very substance of the paint, when used in this way, can make such a direct assault upon the nervous system; continuous because the medium is so fluid and subtle that every change that is made loses what is already there in the hope of making a fresh gain.'

Independent of any contemporary example, Bacon's art unfolds here in numerous reproductions, including a number destroyed in a frenzy of self-criticism—sometimes on the eve of an exhibition, entailing hasty improvisation. His painting (like his gambling) stretches his nervous system to the limit, but his inexorable daemon drives him still. 'What modern man wants is the grin without the cat,' is his expression concerning this art of pure sensation. John Rothenstein is right, however, to insist on the painter's consuming interest in humankind.

How posterity will regard him could depend on his reservoir yet untapped. He appears, indeed, to be on the brink of a period of consummating activity. Hitherto he has appealed generally to judges who have been drawn to painting by way of literature. Painter-critics tend to deny Bacon's aesthetic sensibility. Supping the other evening with Patrick Heron in his moorland eyrie at Zennor, I found him sceptical of a painter apparently so woolly in his ideas, so trusting to providence when be splashes the bits on. No doubt Bacon is unprofessional beside one as versed as Heron in the values of the pure painter. Yet this almost psychic power cannot be shrugged off as muddling through. To be fair, Patrick Heron is one of the few of us who early recognised the magnitude of Graham Sutherland's debt to a superior colourist. In The Changing Forms of Art (1955), Heron has this view of Sutherland:

In his most recent canvases at the Tate, very subdued in colour, like Bacon, the much thicker paint, the silvery greys and dead olives still do not vibrate—as Bacon's vibrate—with the resonance, depth and harmony of good colour. What they do contain, however, are imagined, sculpturesque forms of poetic horror and surrealist phantasy. Graham Sutherland is unquestionably a man of extraordinary imagination. But the question is : what kind of imagination is this? I believe Sutherland's phantasy is essentially illustrational, poetic, non-plastic.

The passage almost exactly applies to the more influential painter, the difference being that Francis Bacon's forms are now as fully plastic as Daumier's, but kneaded and twisted as in- a distorting mirror.

Closing this massive investigation, one is conscious that the hypersensitive, yet so gentle, friendly creature elegantly gesticulating, escapes his trappers still. His Motivation in his abhorred interval of existence is as elusive as his countenance of a fallen cherub flitting between Wheeler's and Tangier. Accompanying him recently round a Jackson Pollock exhibition we paused before a titillating abstract arabesque. 'But you know,' he reflected aloud, 'the human image still has the greatest power to move the hearts and minds of men.' So, in any international company, does Bacon's imagery, scorching and brilliant. But in the midst of his crater there is a darkness.

* FRANCIS BACON. By John Rothenstein and Ronald Alley, (Thames and Hudson, £7 7s.)




Areas of feeling





No one admires the horrific canvases of Francis Bacon more than I do—but how to explain them? John Russell in his study Francis Bacon (Methuen 8s. 6d.) deliberately, and perhaps rightly, evades this problem altogether. He does, however, provide a highly intelligent and stimulating commentary. The reproductions do the rest. "Art," said Bacon in some notes he once made for a catalogue, "is a method of opening up areas of feeling rather than merely an illustration of an object." If he is right, how good he himself is at doing what an artist should aim.





   by John Richardson



   Francis Bacon
     by John Rothenstein, by Ronald Alley

     Viking, 330 pp., $25.00


      John Richardson The New York Review of Books Volume 4, Number 4 | March 25, 1965 



Francis Bacon is the first modern painter of international caliber that the British have produced. Before him British painters formed the rearguard of the modern movement. Their reaction to Impressionism was tepid, to post-Impressionism coy. Despite the sermons of Roger Fry and Clive Bell, they never learned the lesson of Cézanne, and only profited from the example of the Cubists when it was too late. By 1939 notions of artistic propriety and good taste tainted the work of one and all. Artiness, amateurishness, and pastiche had become the hallmarks of British painting.

True, a few of the more meretricious artists—Augustus John, for instance—cultivated a certain braggadocio of style, but this only emphasized the innate hollowness and gentility of their work. True again, a few honorable exceptions were open to revolutionary ideas, but even the most emancipated ones followed trends rather than set them. Matthew Smith, for instance, latched on to Fauvism and Wyndham Lewis to Futurism. Among living artists, Ben Nicholson turned to Mondrian, Henry Moore to Arp, and Pasmore to the Constructivists, while Graham Sutherland brought a "Picturesque" view of nature back into fashion. In their very different ways these men aspired to be international artists, but by 1939 none of them had entirely succeeded in transcending his Englishness, except perhaps Moore. And even Moore reverted to Englishness, when war broke out and he and his colleagues were conscripted as war artists.

One might have thought that the drama and isolation of life in wartime England would have been a challenge to native painters. But no. Either as a result of personal disinclination or governmental policy, none of the so-called "war artists" ever came to grips with their appointed subject. The less imaginative ones churned out documentary records; others tried a more inspirational approach and depicted brawny heroes doing their bit. Even the best of them—Nash, Sutherland, and Moore—tended to avoid the main issue and concentrate on marginal or picturesque aspects; the eerie beauty of an airplane graveyard, of bombed or burning buildings, of shrouded tiers of air-raid shelterers.

The war did not change much: artistically London seemed only a whit less dismal in 1944 than it had in 1939. The neo-Romantics returned to their studios more neo-Romantic than ever. The young were baffled or egg-bound. Apart from the emergence of some promising sculptors, almost the only change was in Graham Sutherland—fugleman of postwar British painting—whose performance had a new zest and edge to it. Sutherland, it emerged, had come under the spell of a virtually unknown painter: Francis Bacon. Although Sutherland subsequently allowed the mantle of Laszlo to fall on his shoulders, his work still occasionally strikes a Baconian note. Alas, Sir John Rothenstein, who introduces the present volume, follows precedent and makes no allusion to this fact, or to the influence which Bacon exerted on other British artists. I do not mean to suggest that they imitated his stylistic quirks or subjects; rather they took new heart from his un-English seriousness about art, his assumption that painting is a matter of life or death.

Bacon disdained picturesque subjects, anecdotal details, and other winning little tricks. And while his work of the period made no specific references to the war or its aftermath, they are some of the only paintings of their time to take account of the public brutality and private despair which had become familiar ingredients of life. For the first time in the twentieth century, England had produced a painter with a powerful and original vision and something new and apposite to say about the plight of human beings, a painter who did not moon on about nature but faced up to the charnel-house—not, I hasten to add, for its own sensational sake. Bacon is not a sensation-monger: he is a tragedian.

Correctly situated in the context of modern British art, Bacon towers over the scene. A pity, then, that Sir John Rothenstein side-steps the issue of placing him. Doubtless his reticence is due to tact, for Sir John was still Director of the Tate Gallery when he wrote the text of this book. Had he accorded Bacon his rightful placement, he might well have found himself treading on the corns of the Establishment. I have another reservation about the Introduction: Sir John confesses that he is foxed by Bacon's "ambiguous art." "At times it seems to me that I have it in focus," he says, "then suddenly the collective image fades and I have to begin again." His modesty does him more credit than it inspires confidence in the reader. Surely Bacon's "collective image," whether one likes it or not, is too fast to run or fade. And in any case, compared with so much modern art, Bacon's work is self-explanatory (the artist prefers the word "straightforward"), at times embarrassingly so. Understanding it is largely a matter of being able to take the implications of some perverse and lurid subject matter—Bacon's private hells. It is no good holding your nose, peeping between your fingers, and then pretending he does not mean all those nasty things.

Maybe we should make allowances for Sir John's Catholic bias. Bacon's out-and-out rejection of Christianity sticks in his throat, as witness this explanation of the artist's "obsession" with the Crucifixion: "[Bacon] himself cannot (or will not) account for this obsession, but perhaps an obsession with the most significant and dramatic event of human history, the great exemplar of human suffering, needs no accounting for." As it happens, Bacon has accounted for it in a statement about the great grisly "Crucifixion" triptych—probably his masterpiece—of 1962. No question of an obsession or religious preoccupation, Bacon says. He was going through a bad period of drinking; he wanted to do a painting about "the way men behave to one another"what better metaphor than the Crucifixion? Granted, the figure—part side of beef, part worm, part human—which writhes down the right-hand panel was inspired by Cimabue's Crucifixion ("I always think of that as a worm crawling down a cross," says Bacon). But the central panel of some human debris on a blood-soaked mattress can hardly be said to have a sacred provenance, inspired as it is by a nude photograph of an American poet on a folding bed.

We should, however, be grateful to Sir John for providing a useful account of the artist's career and to Mr. Ronald Alley for compiling a catalogue raisonnée of unusual accuracy and good sense. We learn that Bacon was a late starter; he did not become a full-time painter until 1944, when he was thirty-nine. Before this he had spent a feckless childhood on his father's farm near Dublin (Bacon is not Irish: "he is a collateral descendant of his illustrious Elizabethan name-sake"). Then, at the age of seventeen, he took off—here his life parallels Rimbaud's—and wandered over France and Germany in search of adventure and le dérèglement de tous les sens, an abundance of which he found in Berlin. When that palled, he came to London and set up as a designer of modernistic furniture and rugs. He also worked at various odd jobs and even painted sporadically in an eclectic School of Paris idiom. Significantly he never went near an art school.

Although his urge to paint was strong, Bacon evidently had a block about doing it. This, I suspect, accounts for his Dostoyevskyan bouts of gambling in the Thirties and Forties and the fact that he still sometimes disappears to Monte Carlo to play roulette for exceedingly high stakes. Sir John does not examine the obvious link between Bacon's gambling and painting, but I think it is worth noting that the artist's approach to both activities is based on what Bacon calls "premonitions" rather than systems. Thanks to some chance "premonition," Bacon will throw everything on a single number in the same way that he will stake the success of a picture on one last reckless brush-stroke. More often than not he loses; that is why "I have to destroy all my better paintings." As Bacon says, "the artist must really deepen the game to be any good at all, so that he can make life more exciting and return the onlooker to life more violently."

What really turned Bacon into a mature painter was the war. The war enabled him to harness the obsessively violent side of his nature and distill its emanations into art. The first proofs of Bacon's powers are three sketches for the Eumenides (also intended as figures at the base of a Crucifixion) which he painted during the bombing of London. Although they owe something to Picasso's metamorphic work and Grünewald's Mocking of Christ, these phallic busts of grayish flesh, p