Francis Bacon Archive

 

                                                                                              

                                         1949 2000

 

 

 

 

Round the London Art Galleries

 

 

By WYNDHAM LEWIS ART | THE LISTENER NOVEMBER 17, 1949   

 

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

 

 

 

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.

 


  

 

 

FRANCIS BACON

 

ROBERT MELVILLE | HORIZON DECEMBER 1949   

 

 

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 Cézannes ‘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.

 

 

 

LONDON ART EXHIBITIONS

 

By Our London Art Critic

 

THE SCOTSMAN | TUESDAY, OCTOBER 10, 1950   

 

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.

 

    

 

 

 

Snapshots from Hell

 

 

 TIME MONDAY, OCTOBER 19, 1953   

 

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

 

THE TIMES FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 13, 1953    

 

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.

 

 

 

At the Tate Gallery

 

 

By DAVID SYLVESTER | ART ENCOUNTER | SEPTEMBER 1956  

 

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 labelledThe 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.

 

 

 

A DISQUIETING NUDE

BY FRANCIS BACON

 

 

VIRGINIA HARRIMAN | BULLETIN OF THE DETROIT INSTITUTE OF ARTS | VOLUME XXXVI NUMBER I | APRIL 1956-57 

 

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

VIRGINIA HARRIMAN

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.

3 From The Hollow Men by T. S. Eliot.

 

    

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

 

 

 

In Camera

 

By DAVID SYLVESTER | ENCOUNTER | APRIL 1957

 

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.

 

REPRODUCTIONS OP PAINTINGS BY FRANCIS BACON

 

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. 

 

 

 

  SOME EVENTS IN GREAT BRITAIN:

PRESENTATIONS AND OTHER ITEMS.

 

 

THE ILLUSTRATED LONDON NEWS FEBRUARY 7, 1959

 

 

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.

 

 

      

               "STUDY FOR A PORTRAIT OF VAN GOGH, NO. 4" BY FRANCIS BACON

        ONE OF THE WORKS RECENTLY ACQUIRED BY THE TATE GALLERY. IT WAS PAINTED IN 1957.

 

  

 

 "Distort into Reality"

   

    TIME FRIDAY, JUNE 8, 1962

   

"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

 

FRANCIS BACON  TATE GALLERY

 

 

By ROBERT WRAIGHT | GALLERIES THE TATLER | WEDNESDAY 13 JUNE 1962  

 

 

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.


 

 

 

The Horrific Vision of Mr. Francis Bacon

 

 

FROM OUR ART CRITIC THE TIMES | THURSDAY MAY 24 1962

 

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).

MEANING LEFT VAGUE

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.

 

 

 

MORTAL CONFLICT

 

 

By ERIC NEWTON THE GUARDIAN | THURSDAY MAY 24, 1962  

 

 

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 level 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

 

 

By JOHN RUSSELL THE WORLD OF ART THE SUNDAY TIMES | MAY 27, 1962

 


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 at the microphone Adolf Eichmann in his glassed-in bullet-proof box.

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.

 

 

 

THE OBSERVER PROFILE

 

FRANCIS BACON

 

THE OBSERVER PROFILE THE OBSERVER WEEKEND REVIEW | SUNDAY MAY 27, 1962

 


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

 

 

 

  REPORT FROM THE UNDERWORLD

 

 

      By NIGEL GOSLING GALLERIES THE OBSERVER WEEKEND REVIEW | SUNDAY MAY 27, 1962

 

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.

Sado-masochism

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 NOW

 

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

 

DARK SUNLIGHT

 

DAVID SYLVESTER | THE SUNDAY TIMES COLOUR MAGAZINE | JUNE 2, 1963 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

The dream & the nightmare

 

 

HENRY MOORE & FRANCIS BACON

NEW LONDON GALLERY

 

 

ROBERT WRAIGHT | GALLERIES THE TATLER | 31 JULY 1963

 

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.

 

 

 

  FROM HELL TO HEAVEN

 

 

     By FRANK DAVIS | A PAGE FOR COLLECTORS | THE ILLUSTRATED LONDON NEWS | AUGUST 10, 1963

 

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.

 

 

By DAVID SYLVESTER THE NEW YORK TIMES | OCTOBER 20, 1963 

 

 

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

A GREAT, SHOCKING, ECCENTRIC PAINTER

 

 

BY LAWRENCE ALLOWAY | VOGUE | NOVEMBER 1, 1963 

 

 

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 survivemeat 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.

 

 

 

 

          FRANCIS BACON

 


THE SOLOMON R. GUGGENHEIM MUSEUM, NEW YORK

                                        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

 

INTRODUCTION
 

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."
6

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

 

NOTES


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. 
 


THE SOLOMON R. GUGGENHEIM MUSEUM 1071 FIFTH AVENUE, NEW YORK 28, N. Y.

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

 

 

 

 

Robert Melville has a look at a book about

 

Francis Bacon

 

 

ROBERT MELVILLE STUDIO INTERNATIONAL | VOLUME 168 NUMBER 855 JULY 1964 

 

 

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

 

 

 By NEVILE WALLIS THE SPECTATOR | 10 JULY, 1964 

 

 

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

 

 

OLIVER WARNER | ON BOOKS | TATLER | 17 FEBRUARY 1965 

 

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.

 

 

 

 Tragedian

   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, perched on stands in some orange Golgotha, struck an explosive new note in British art. Their eye-splitting, pictorial screams won Bacon instant notoriety, but his output was so small—twelve pictures in five years—that he remained a legend to the public, who did not get a second look at his work until 1949. Even then it was only with some difficulty that a dealer managed to assemble six paintings for Bacon's first proper show. Small though it was, this was a key exhibition: it established Bacon as the one man capable of rehabilitating British painting and also gave the artist's confidence a helpful boost. At last he began to bring off more compositions than he jettisoned.

In the early days of his success Bacon suffered from one major shortcoming, which is passed over in the text of this book though implicit in the plates: the gap between the unnerving power of his conception and the uneven performance of his technique. Being an autodidact is all very well—an artist benefits to the extent that he is not saddled with out-of-date formulae and idées reçues—but there are disadvantages: in Bacon's case the fact that he wanted to achieve subtle yet complicated effects with the utmost economy and spontaneity of means. "What modern man wants," he once said, quoting Valéry, "is the grin without the cat—the sensation without the boredom of its conveyance." Bacon, who is more self-critical and wise to the art of the past than most painters, realized that he would need the accomplishment of a Velasquez or a Manet if he were ever going to pin down the grin. Accordingly he embarked on a series (1949 onwards) of variations after Velasquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X, in the course of which he evolved a wonderfully expressive, yet apparently spontaneous way of applying paint to unprimed canvas. In the best of these the paint looks as if it has been breathed on to the black-stained nap of the surface.

This new and highly personal technique stands in the same ambiguous relationship to Velasquez's technique as Bacon's popes do to Velasquez's pope. Velasquez gives us an astonishing characterization of a human being; at the same time he invests this prince of the church with a convincing air of divine and temporal power. Bacon's popes, on the other hand, hold their monkey hands together in a travesty of prayer, scream with laughter, pick their noses, pontificate (but only to themselves), sneer, snarl and howl in agony, like the woman in the Odessa steps sequence from Potemkin (a recurrent reference in Bacon's work). How are we to interpret them? Sir John Rothenstein claims that "the image of the Vicar of Christ continues to obsess [Bacon] as personifying the opposite of everything which he himself stands for; authority as against independence; stability as against flux and uncertainty; the public interest as distinct from the private." Yet surely the point about Bacon's popes is that they have no authority, let alone infallibility. If anything, they are anti-popes. Bacon himself claims that they are "tragic heroes raised on a dais." This makes sense to the extent that his pontiffs have been elected to play a God-like role for which they are tragically miscast. But are they really heroes? I see them as human beings with human failings—businessmen caught up in some nightmare charade. Under purple robes well-pressed striped trousers break correctly over well-shod clay feet.

Bacon does not only derive his images from masterpieces of the past. As Sir John emphasizes, he also uses photographs—blurred ones from newspapers, stills from movies, illustrations from animal books (the authors fail to mention that V. J. Stanek's Introducing Monkeys has provided the artist with numerous subjects), and above all plates from Eadweard Muybridge's. The Human Figure in Motion and Animals in Motion. Indeed, Muybridge's clinical studies of the bodies of man and beast in every conceivable pose have inspired some of Bacon's most disquieting works:

The artist barely alters the pose of Muybridge's prosaic models [the present reviewer once wrote]; he will simply take one of them out of context and set him in a kind of cage, a contraption that one can only imagine in a science fiction brothel. This gives the subject a haunting menace, all the nastier for sexual overtones. At moments like these Bacon's world seems very close to William Burroughs's. Some of these pictures anticipate—could even be illustrations for—The Naked Lunch.

I quote this, because I would like to correct a possible misconception. I do not want to imply that Bacon is an illustrative artist. As he himself has said, "I aim at paint which comes across directly on to the nervous system, not paint which tells you the story in a long diatribe through the brain."

As his technical and imaginative control has grown more assured and inventive, Bacon has come to depend less on outside sources—that is to say the art of the past or photographs—for his subjects. Instead he has drawn increasingly on his own experience of humanity, and his work seems correspondingly more deeply felt. Bacon's message is not a cheering one. Life, he implies, amounts to solitary confinement in a cell of our own contrivance. This applies not just to the alcoholics, drug-addicts, and mad people, in whom Bacon has summed up so much of the mal du siècle, but also to the old bags whom he sets spinning on their own axes—like rats in a revolving cage—to his implacable lovers waiting for the next victim, indeed to all of us. The same pessimism is projected in the desperate contortions of Bacon's latest portraits and self-portraits—pictures in which the features spin and squash into one another as if subjected to an excess of gravitational pull. Here at last is the grin without the cat.

 

 

 

 

The Potemkin file

 

 

M. G. McNay reviews the Dublin retrospective of Francis Bacon

 

 

 M. G. MCNAY | THE GUARDIAN | SATURDAY APRIL 17 1965

 

 

FRANCIS BACON used to destroy nearly all of his own work. But when after the war he became well know, his exhibitions multiplied, and private and public collectors rescued his paintings by purchasing more and more of them. From 1945 he created a famous body of work. That was the year when we learnt that solid flesh could melt, thaw, and resolve itself into a dew, and it has seemed since that Bacon's paint spoke with the voice of authentic anguish. If ever he has experienced self-doubt, the public has dashed the poisonous chalice from his lips.

There have been shows of Bacon's work all over the world, but this is the first time that Dublin, city of his birth, held a major retrospective (sponsored by the Arts Council of Ireland, and the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art until next month). Coming so soon after the large volume on Bacon by Sir John Rothenstein and Ronald Alley, it gives us a chance to resolve any doubts there may be one way or the other.

Now is the time to admit that I may be rationalising doubts that are more emotional than empirical. I find that the qualities for which Bacon's work is applauded leave me with a feeling of distaste: the bruised flesh, the putrefaction, the monstrous distortions; one eye open wide, the other closed, and in between the two the picture decomposed. It all seems such a basic attitude to humanity that I find, not pity, but a life-denial, an aversion to flesh and sex. Looking at he pictures is like having someone insistently telling you about details of his private life that are not only sordid but also boring.

Bacon can paint, certainlyand he has a string of artist admirers  prepared to vouch for thatbut a close examination of his surfaces usually reveals nothing more remarkable technically than a thorough-going pedestrianism; he can draw with superb expressiveness, but the emotional sty in his eye makes some of his distortions lugubrious: look, for instance, at the Walt Disney lavatory (or stove?) that the figure is sitting on in the left-hand section of the huge triptych Three Figures in a Room.

But the failings in composition lead to the really serious objections. Bacon himself disowns the kind of criticism that interprets the linear box shapes he often paints around his figures as some kind of airless glass case of the sort in which Eichmann sat hunched during his trial. In fact they are devised to pull in the edges of the canvas closer to the figures. As such they succeed in a rudimentary way, but they cannot conceal the lack of interest, the sheer dullness that afflicts his painting once the brush has moved from the central incident.

Not that even the main image is always so successfulfew enough of his figures have the power of the great resigned Caliban in Study for Portrait of P.L. No.2 Until 1957, Bacon's best paintings were those in which you could see everything that is happening. The tense, slavering  “Dog of 1952 for instance, is a vivid picture of fear. On the other hand, Figure Study 2of 1945-46 has a tweed coat draped over a grotesque nude body; the head is a horse's neck-length away from the body, but whatever extraordinary distortion has caused this is hidden from us by shadow. Bacon has imposed his own terms but fallen short of them. The same can be said for so much of what passes for his dissolving” flesh: the fact is that one is unconvinced that there has ever been anything to dissolve. Look at details like ears, for instance, and too often they will not bear scrutiny because they have been skimpily painted.

Then in 1957 Bacon painted a series of studies of Van Gogh going to work (two are included in the exhibition). Under the influence of Van Gogh's treatment of the same subject, his touch loosened and he painted thorough-going compositions. He came away from these studies and adopted the idea of painting a vivid line around the figures; the line works in the same way as the  “space framesit draws in the edges of the canvas and makes the central image more dominating. But now the figure refuses to be pinned down on the canvas and the spectator feels that the picture ought to be viewed through coloured 3D spectacles.

Occasionally there is a complete success. Head of a Woman(1960), for instance, has great affinities with Munch, and in this case the outline is successful because it is more important than the modelling of the figure it describes, so that the line becomes expressive in its own right as in drawing or a woodcut.

Bacon's eclecticism is well known, and it is his strength that all his material utterly succumbs to his influence. But though his imagery has left its mark on the popular imagination in a way not given to many painters, it does not mean that he has always improved on his source. Thus it seems quite possible that the brainwashing sequence in the film of “The Ipcress File completed the circuit begun when Bacon adopted for his own use the screaming woman on the Odessa Steps in The Battleship Potemkin; if the soundless scream of agony by the Ipcress agent Harry Palmer is a weaker image than Bacon's, it is possible to feel that Bacon in turn has weakened the original Potemkin image.

Nobody can doubt Bacon's integrity. He is not interested in public acclaim and would not allow his paintings to be seen if it were not for the necessity to sell them. He still destroys many of his canvases. So it is paradoxical that two things let him down; he seems to fail to discipline himself to finish his pictures; and in all but a few cases his distortions are so violent that they seem more wilful and personal than expressions of logic or style.

 

 

 

Rasher than Bacon

 

 

EDDIE WOLFRAM | ART AND ARTISTS | SEPTEMBER 1966 

 

 

ALTHOUGH HE WAS making water colours while still in his early teens, Bacon's involvement with painting before the war was sporadic. In the late twenties he travelled, spending time in both Paris and Berlin; this was the Berlin of Spender and Isherwood, George Grosz and DIE NEUE SACHLICHTKEIT, the ,metropolitan fleshpot where Mr. Norris changed his train  and Bacon first encountered a tawdry nightlife which was to become his regular environment. It was not until the early thirties, however, after he had already attracted considerable attention as an interior decorator, that painting really became his major preoccupation.

Little of Bacon's pre-war work remains and with one or two notable exceptions such as the crucifixion of 1933, that which does, is of an uneven nature, assimilating Picasso and Surrealism as well as the current trends of the time. For the purposes of a critical chronology of his mature work we can agree with the painter himself, who has emphatically stated more than once, that nothing he  did before 1944 is of any value whatsoever. 'I began with a triptychThree Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion painted in 1944.' Nevertheless his interest in interior design and the avant-garde art movements of the thirties suggests an aesthetic preoccupation which is all too often ignored  by commentators on his work, who either laud him as some kind of apocalyptic visionary or decry him as a sensation-monger boring into the psychosis of the spectator. At the age of 35 then, without academic art training whatsoever and at the close of the most ruthless and violent carnage that the civilised world has ever witnessed, Francis Bacon emerged as a painter of authority.

Much of the writing around the painting of Francis Bacon has been vivid to say the least. Robert Melville, one of his earliest advocates, has always reacted with a verbal muscularity only matched in its tenacity  by certain aspects of Bacon's own imagery. As early as the turn of the forties Melville's enthusiasm led him to conclude that Bacon's descriptive painting of flesh was 'obscenely rich in renewal' and that he left 'a rich taste of mortality in the mouth'. By 1959, to Melville's eyes, 'Bacon might be said to have covered the lampshades of his immediate predecessors with human skin' and 'he (Bacon) discovers in the act of painting the felicities of the death warrant'; and the Catholic Herald ascertained that 'Bacon has murdered sleep ... if there is no rest in a chair there is only rape and a bloody death in bed'.

At the same time less torrid commentators like Patrick Heron found 'that Bacon's painting morbid could not well be denied. Yet for me at least not one atom of true  nightmare of any kind is evident in any of these modish canvases. I have found more true disquiet in a Braque jug or teapot.' Despite his political orientation John Berger only afforded himself the conclusion that 'Bacon is a brilliant stage-manager rather than an original artist because there is no evidence in his work of any visual discovery, but only of imaginative and skilful arrangement'. And David Sylvester, probably the most balanced and perceptive voice on Bacon to date, has commented that 'cerainly, Bacon's force as a maker of images resides in the ambivalence of the feelings he induces at the sight of his fallen hero. They present, as truly tragic heroes do, massive contradictions.'

Bacon's work really first came under the public gaze in the early post-war years when the impact of the second world war was still very much a part of the general consciousness and the far reaching consequences of nuclear power, of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, were as yet hardly realised. In sociological terms it is understandable and quite valid that Bacon's paintings should call forth such lurid prose and alliterations as those of Robert Melville. Even the outcry against Bacon's work expressed the post-war hysteria. Whether one accepted them or rejected them, his paintings acted as a signpost for the time. As social documentation, Bacon was the painter who best illustrated man's capacity for animal brutality; and the clinical panache of his painterly technique could well be read as  as expressing man's newfound efficiency and the ominous consequences of it. Bacon has repeatedly denied any such illustrative intentions, yet there can be little doubt that the earliest attentions afforded him were gauged to these sort of literary considerations.

In the light of the varied reactions that Bacon's imagery has induced in such informed commentators as Melville, Heron and Berger, there do seem to be some massive contradictions in their in their points of view if not in Bacon's imagery. When confronted with one of Bacon's spectral images the problem has always been to what degree its impact relies upon its sociological relevance and the subliminal responses of the spectator, as against the significance of any formal revelation that his images might contain—a question of subject matter or significant form. Whether Bacon's paintings are overtures for obscenity, whether or not he murders sleep, whether or not they are morbid or less disquieting than a Braque teapot, seems to me to be matters of personal conjecture. Beauty or any substitute could be said to lie in the eye of the beholder; even more accurately, in the beholder's prehistory of experience. However much one quarrels about the quality or quantity of the psychological loading that a Bacon painting may or may now have, it seems clear that his images are not easily dismissed. Whether one approves of them or not, there is little room for disagreement with the general consensus of opinion, that his images are the most hypnotic and arresting made by any post-war British painter.

With the 1962 Tate Retrospective exhibition Bacon consolidated the eminence of his position among British painters. Since then the mood of aesthetic discernment has changed considerably and in an attempt to arrive at a level-headed assessment of his achievements it is worthwhile asking whether the impact of Bacon's imagery in the sixties amounts to the same thing as it did in the late forties and fifties.

The acceleration of recent technological advances, the wide deployment of computer systems and satellite communications and the advent of admass has led to a great deal of re-thinking about the whole business of communication and consequently, how visual art can function today. Discoveries in the fields of cybernetics and bio-chemistry run riot with earlier ideas about psychological conditioning. In art terms it means the final dissolution of traditional formal concretes in favour of phenomenological reference. Painting today functions directly as a conceptual activity in philosophical terms and the art object acts only as a cypher reference to tangible reality. The tendency which still exists to regard Bacon's paintings as the work of some kind f satanic hedonist, if not ludicrous, is simply quaint. Social and moralist taboos around human relationships and physical indulgences are no longer shrouded by the decrepit cant of 19th century humanism. To regard Bacon's work as significant on such bankrupt ethical reference, is to read into them as much provocative eastern promise as you would find in a Bunny Club; it misses the point and does him an injustice.

It strikes me as unfortunate, that whether sympathetic or hostile, this lack of assertion in the majority of critical opinion always revolves around the visceral aspects of Bacon's imagery. Of course Bacon is a painter of obsessional images, but then in the private terms of every artist's need for self-expression, so was Mondrian; so are Ellsworth Kelly and Ad Reinhardt. It is worth a few seconds' thought over whose work is more of a psychiatrist's ink-blot, Reinhardt or Bacon? We now all know about Freud and the auto-biographical significance invested in any visual mark; the principal can work equally well for Mondrian and Pollock as well as Bacon.

Today there is really little significance in classifying various areas of art as either figurative or abstract. Communication study signifies that it is only a question of time before any figment of painterly marks can be ascribed with specific tangible meaning. It is questionable in such current terms whether Bacon is any more a painter of horror than say, Otto Piene or Roy Lichtenstein. Violence as an outlet for the irrational is common usage in all of our day-to-day experiences. We are pretty indifferent to Alabama or Vietnam and we are not particularly shocked by the Austin Texas Tower murder. Our arteries of sensory experience in the sixties are considerably more hardened and shock-proof than in preceding decades.

It is now pointless to equivocate about Francis Bacon's paintings with reference to their horrific impact. Surely Bacon is not just an oddity; a contemporary Lutheran conscience-raker or a diabolical pimp. It is just possible that Bacon is an innocent. He pursues the possibility of an image with the directness and honesty that might well align him with Rousseau. His ability to do so, I believe, is intrinsically indebted to essentially plastic preoccupations; in describing an image that coincides with the basic naivety of his technical armoury. His earlier days as a designer are proof of an initial involvement with plastic and formal ideas; yet as a painter he was never exposed to the pre-conditioning of academic training. Therefore, to make an image for Bacon, has always involved a considerable strain of his painterly resources; and possessing none of the visually rhetorical emptiness invested in an academic background, he has not been slow to muster the visual aids that modern technology has to offer. Long before the Pop-heretics appeared on the scene he had already spurned the holy sanctity of fine art by defrocking Velázquez's Pope; nor has he ever hesitated to make wide use of photographic reference whether Muybridge, Einstein or news-press. Unlike Rousseau, however, Bacon compensates for the naivety of his means, not with dreams but with a concept of ethical resolve which transcends the nondescript vestiges of his environment. And so he has survived the varied swings of modish art-thinking through the omnipotent and anarchic rule of the gesture and the democratisation advocated by the Pop-party. Today Bacon recognises the poisonous threat of the technocratic serpent; it fails to mesmerise him and he renders it innocuous. I suspect that Bacon masquerades as a Robin to Nietzsche's Batman; 'where the state ceaseth—I pray you look there, my brethren! Do you not see it, the rainbow, the bridge to the superman?'

EDDIE WOLFRAM 

An exhibition of new paintings by Francis Bacon will be on show at Galerie Maeght, Paris, during November.  

 

    

            Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud on Orange Couch 1965 Oil on canvas 61½ x 54¾ Marlborough Fine Art

 

 

 

Francis Bacon

 

MICHAEL GILL | RADIO TIMES | SEPTEMBER 15, 1966

 

Sunday  BBC 1  10.0

 

TONIGHT'S programme is a self-portrait of the English painter, Francis Bacon. An international jury of art experts recently voted him number five in the world's top ten of living artists. No other British painter has been so highly regarded for decades. Yet many people find pictures like his repulsive and incomprehensible.

I believe much of this antagonism comes from misunderstanding of what Bacon is about. In fact, far more than most modern artists, Bacon is directly concerned with the basic human situation.

His view of man is as harsh and uncompromising as a candid camera shot of a celebrity or the latest film clip from a disaster area. 'I've always hoped to put over things as directly and rawly as I possibly can,' he says.

His honesty, his contemporary relevance, and his ability to convey, as if in a single perceptive flash, the essence of an extreme mood or emotion make him a compelling subject for a film director. Film also deals in immediate images, and I've tried in my treatment of tonight's programme to reflect the atmosphere of his paintings.

Now fifty-seven, Bacon has rarely spoken about his aims, believing that his paintings should answer for themselves. But tonight, for the first time on BBC-tv, he talks at length, simply and frankly, about his work and views on art and life.

Michael Gill

 

    


 

Francis Bacon on BBC1

 

MARY CROZIER THE GUARDIAN | MONDAY 19 SEPTEMBER 1966

 

The programme on Francis Bacon last night on BBC1 was a considerable achievement. In spite of the fame of his paintings, Bacon remains a mysterious figure. He does not appear to seek publicity, and this is a very rare attitude nowadays.

This long interview with David Sylvester, the first time Bacon had ever appeared on BBC television, was extraordinarily full and interesting. It was certainly better with just the one person questioning and commenting than if there had been the more usual formula, with several critics and opinions. Bacon, with his intensely bright and steady eyes, talked freely and exquisitely to Sylvester, always making his methods and his aims in his work perfectly clear and precise. An interesting face - I should like to see somebody do a Bacon of Bacon. Early experiences giving rise to his repeated painting of the screaming or agonised mouth were described; the nurse screaming in the Eisenstein film, and the old book he found in Paris illustrating the diseases of the mouth.

Later we saw the floor covered with all the tattered piles of photographs, old pictures, pages torn from books, from which he often works, preferring the photograph to the live model. The sitter inhibits Bacon, especially if he likes the subject, because he does not want to practise in his model's presence the injury he is going to do. It is an injury because most people feel distortion to be an injury to themselves. The number of paintings shown, the range of the discussion, the music by Edwin Astley and the writing and direction by Eric Gill altogether made a programme of rare quality.

· This article was amended on Tuesday September 18 2007. Michael Gill, rather than Eric Gill, directed a 1966 television interview with Francis Bacon. We made the mistake when transcribing a review of the programme, which appeared in The Guardian at the time and was reprinted in the Francis Bacon booklet distributed as part of the Great interviews of the 20th century series. This has been corrected.

 

 

 

 The Coroner's Report

 

   TIME | FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 18, 1966

 

     

 

In an era when painting mostly runs to stale geometries, pop playthings and optical gimmickry, an artist who tackles the image of man with originality is a rare figure. Such a man is Britain's Francis Bacon, but it is unlikely that his portraits will ever hang in any corporation board room. His paintings attack conventional concepts of beauty, plow the flesh and reap a contorted yet keen vision of mortality.

It is a mark of courage for anyone to consent to a Bacon portrait. In fact, the painter rarely has his subject present, prefers to work from photographs strewn about his London studio. Says he: "Sitters inhibit me; if I like them, I don't want to practice before them the injury that I do to them in my work. In private, I can record the fact of them more clearly."

Bloody Beef. 

Man is a grisly fact to Bacon's eye. With surrealistic swiftness, he slaughters the human form; yet the smithereens seem to scream for recognition. Despite the mayhem he commits with his brushes and his stylistic isolation, he is today considered Britain's greatest living painter. In a recent poll by France's Connaissance des Arts, he ranked fifth among the world's ten favourite living artists. His works are selling for prices up to $17,000.

Bacon achieved this popularity despite his blatantly repellent subject matter: slabs of bloody beef, shrieking popes, and men performing vague erotic gymnastics. In his recent paintings, he has focused on portraiture. In a frenzy since the beginning of the year, he has painted 30, half of which go on view in Paris' Galerie Maeght this week. The rest the artist cut to bits too small to reach the open market via his trash basket.

Excitement & Horror. 

Bacon does not accept commissions, and his subjects are quite naturally his closest friends. Frequently he paints Isobel Rawsthorne, wife of Composer Alan Rawsthorne (see opposite page); or the painter Lucian Freud, the grandson of Sigmund. He does not try to provide insights into their specific characters. Says he, "I am really trying to create formal traps which will suddenly close at the right moment recording this fact of man as accurately as I can."

What fascinates Bacon is the perfect portrait of human tragedy. He resurrects the image of man halfway between life and death like some mad coroner who frames the clotted residue of life. "We exist this short moment between birth and death," he says. "You are more conscious of sunlight when you see the darkness of the shadows. There is life and there is death, like sunlight and shadow. This must heighten the excitement of life. And then it heightens the horror of it."

Through a One-Way Window.

Some critics have said Bacon only paints his own despair. "I'm a drifter," admits Bacon, who confesses to living in a hazy homosexual underworld. But, he continues, "I have seen the despair of so many people, whether they are young or old, and it doesn't appear to be much different whether they are homosexual or heterosexual. It's possible that loneliness haunts homosexual people more, especially toward old age." If so, Bacon, now 57, bends his despair to the manner of his art.

In Bacon's paintings, the real world is a torture chamber. His figures writhe like angry putty, as if viewed in a psychiatric ward through a one-way window. They tumble and melt into a glue without regard for skeletal formality. Yet a humanism exists in Bacon's work. He may see man as an accident but, as he says, "Somewhere you have to drive the nail home into fact." The pathology of his vision still affirms life. Says he: "I believe that anything that exists is a violent thing. The existence of a rose is a violence." For Bacon, man reveals his existence through his agony. In the portraits, the faces are suddenly seized by some tic douloureux, convulsed into a telltale grimace. To trap that instant is the aim of his swirling brush.

 

 

       FRANCIS BACONS FRENZIED FACES

    

        Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne (1966) shows twisted human anguish, a theme pervading many of Bacon's canvases. Sitter is artist's good friend and frequent model.

 

 

     

              COVER Francis Bacon photographed by Ian Berry

 

 

FRANCIS BACON:

GENIUS OF VIOLENCE

 

 

NIGEL GOSLING | THE OBSERVER MAGAZINE | 5 MARCH 1967

 

 

FRANCIS BACON | MAN NOT NUDE BUT NAKED

 

Francis Bacon is now the most influential living British painter; his work dominates the world art scene. His pictures may at first seem grotesque, but more and more people come to feel a shock of recognition about our society in his work. Bacon himself says: ‘Anything that exists is a violent thing. The existence of a rose is a violence’. On these pages Nigel Gosling discusses Bacons horrific vision and we publish a series of the paintings including some on show for the first time in the exhibition opening in London this week.

 

Most of Francis Bacon's paintings are never seen: he destroys them with a razor. So those in his exhibition which opens at the Marlborough Gallery, London, on Wednesday—almost all of them on view for the first time in Britainare the survivors of an energetic output combined with relentless self-criticism. Several of them are reproduced in The Observer Magazine’s survey this week of Bacon’s work. The tragic view of life underlying his obsession with sex, death and corruption is analysed by art critic Nigel Gosling, who shows why Bacon is likely to be regarded as the great British painter of his age. Although he is now influencing art throughout the world, Bacon is impervious to fame. He lives in a modest mews house in Kensington, with the number chalked on the door, works in a small studio crowded with junk, uses the curtains for wiping his brushes. He did not take up painting until his thirties, and then only to see if I could do it’. Rubens is one of his chief inspirations, and the International Rubens Prize of Siegen (the master’s birthplace) will be presented to him in June. Bacon’s is an impulsive, nocturnal life; his enthusiasms apart from painting are Nietzsche, champagne, gambling.

 

 

BACON: A GENERATION IN HIS SPELL

 

        by Nigel Gosling, The Observers art critic

 

There isn't a country in the world where young artists aren't turning out Bacons. Francis Bacon is certainly the artist who has cast the strongest spell over a whole generation.’ This was not written by a British Council public relations man, but French critic on the occasion of the Paris showing of the exhibition which opens this week in London. No British painter has earned such a compliment since the young Delacroix repainted one of his pictures after seeing the Constables in the Salon in Paris in 1824.

However briefly (the search-light of student curiosity is always on the move), Bacon is the man of the moment. But will his reputation last? The impact of his painting is unforgettablecoming on one of his huge, horrific canvases is like being hit in the crotch—but it is not the kind of sensation that normally reverberates down the centuries.

Yet it seems more and more likely that Bacon will be the big British painter of our age. Few painters share his power to conjure up a shape without literally describing it, to create images which are intangible but at the same time vividly arresting, to create a world of his own in each picture so that you seem to be peering into it through a mental keyhole.

His imagination and his technique are undeniable. It is the grotesque element which has baffled many people. But now even this is becoming acceptable, as we are getting used to its reflection in other painters’ work. Of course it does not look grotesque to Bacon, and we are starting to realise that it is hardly more distorted than the agonies of a saint on a Gothic cathedral.

Even the way his career has gone suggests that he is a stayer. He is no sudden meteor. Bacon is 57 unforgettable—a late age at which to win acclaim, which makes it all the more convincing. He was about 30 before he developed his own idiom, and his reputation—always high among a small circle—has grown and widened slowly, culminating in the big retrospective exhibition at the Tate in 1962, which fixed him squarely in the centre of the British art map. Now, with the tidal waves from the post-war New York pictorial explosion dwindling to mere ripples on the international waters, he is left like a disturbing rock dominating the world scene.

His popularity at this particular moment throws light on ourselves. For, although Bacon's paintings are exceptionally personal, our reaction to them is a social symptom. Now that other media, like photography, can outdo painting in simple description or didacticism, much art takes the form of play—a guilt-free, childlike enjoyment of the way things can be explored and made to work. Bacon accepts this view, but with tragic overtones. Man now realises that he is an accident, a completely futile being,’ he has said. He sees life as a pointless exercise, and sees his own efforts as an attempt to deepen the game’.

He has certainly succeeded. The fact that the young find a sympathetic echo in them shows that beneath the prosperity and fun-loving, cures-for-cancer optimism of modern life the old pit of fear yawns as wide and deep as ever. Bacon paints like a man who has looked into it, not calmly and bravely, but with passionate despair. His paintings seem to have been squeezed out of him by a convulsion of the spiritual bowels, relieving him of some pressure too painful to retain.

Bacon is a slightly fey-looking, soft-moving, soft-speaking man, civilised and intelligent, with that elusive anonymity which creates a stronger personality than hairy-chested forcefulness. He slips effortlessly through any kind of labelling. English, but born and bred (by a horse-training father) near Dublin. Class: upper-middle. Education: a single term at an English prep-school. Art training: nil. Domicile: Kensington with lengthy periods in Morocco or Monaco. Family: unmarried. Friends: from respectable relations to the seamy underworld. Hobbies: intellectual reading, gambling, drinking. He is generous, charming, fanatically sincere and uncorruptible by any temptation yet invented.

His studio is apt to look like a pile of junk with himself at the centre (in his pictures he reverses the process; he has described them as chaos in an isolated area’) but when he steps out, as he likes to do, to a posh restaurant he will be wearing a stylish suit and expensive shoes. He is totally non-political. His engagement with his own private world is so total that for him public issues hardly exist.

Whatever does excite him inside his own world becomes an obsession. He will go on and on compulsively probing an image, like a child exploring the site of an extracted tooth. From the moment he found his own style (in the late thirties, after a slow start as a furniture designer and formalist painter) two themes in particular have run through his work—the love-suffering equation which is sex and the vacuum of loneliness which death.

He explains that he is ‘trying to create formal traps which will close suddenly at the right moment, recording this fact of a man as accurately as I can’. The right moment chosen by this psychological impressionist is the one which reveals this fact of man’ exposed to these two forces.

The sense of duality and tension between contradictory forces is always strong. (It is his feeling that abstract art loses it by rejecting the element of content or subject in favour of mere aesthetic beauty which makes him uninterested in it.) His own work is always rich in opposing associations. His macabre, grotesque imagination is Gothic but expressed in full, rhythmic Renaissance forms. A dog slipping across the corner of the retina is pinned down into permanence. A figure turning as it crosses the room is transformed, like a Lot's wife, into a pillar of paint. The random flailing of copulation is composed into a single complex.

The slash of paint with which he transforms the features of a friend is a gesture of love so fierce that it makes a revolting wound. Each man kills the thing he loves,’ quotes Bacon from Oscar Wilde—and he adds, typically, Is that true? I don’t know.’

Tension breeds violence, and violence is everywhere in Bacon's work. You feel the presence of a sensibility so delicate that the gentlest stimulus is an assault. I believe that that anything that exists is a violent thing. The existence of a rose is a violence.

He himself has created images of pulpy, smashed-up flesh which makes people feel squeamish. Usually he relates them to the Crucifixionto him (he is a non-believer) a classic symbol of cruelty, of  an act of man’s behaviour’. He has associated it with butchers’ shops and pictures of animals waiting to be slaughtered. With characteristic nightmare originality he saw the elongated Cimabue Crucifixion (the one damaged in the Florence floods) as a worm crawling down the Cross’, a vision he has explored in his own versions of the subject.

His new show will certainly confirm his reputation—more than 20 paintings, of which only one has been seen before. The subjects are the same as usual. Portrait heads, singly or in series (‘I see every image al the time in a shifting way’); figures on chairs or couches in bare cells. clothed or unclothed. Everything is pushed around by the paint in an effort to liberate the the deeper, more significant image which Bacon feels inside appearance. There is not a trace in them of caricature, of the exaggeration of normal vision. He has a horror of merely illustrative’ painting, which is one reason why he usually avoids groups, when some kind of narrative relationship is almost unavoidable.

Painting experts will notice the increasing confidence of his handling. Next to Picasso—whom in some ways he so much resembles, in his obsessions, his personal privacy, the expressionist verve with which he pursues things to the limitthis totally untaught artist has a unique gift for making the pigment speak for itself (he never makes preliminary drawings). They will admire the boldness of his colour. Originally related to Graham Sutherland’s shrill discords, it still moves in the range described by a French writer as English old ladies tints—violet, green or rose. It is chance that they are currently the fashion and design favourites!

As usual the big unclothed figures dominate the show. In spite of their careful, balanced placingsometimes inside a kind of containing frame—Bacon’s subjects always retain a voyeurist element They are not nude but naked, caught in a moment of unaware privacy like some secret snapshot taken for evidence at the final judgement.

They are deeply sensual. Their curves swell passionately or split under the attack of devouring intimacy. The cell, the grass, the carpet become an arena for a combat stained with homosexual eroticism. The figure which sprawls on its back, one leg up, on the ugly modern couch seems to be waiting with an abandon which has nothing admirable or enviable about it for another helping of what has already flattened it—pleasure or pain, vision or debasement. It all seems one.

When Bacon paints a dressed figure, the clothes take on their own personality as they do when they are taken off and thrown over a chair. He is particularly with shoes and feet, those unloved, awkwardly-angled climaxes of the human figure.

Unless you separate the spacious composing and rich colours of these paintings from their content—which would be to rob them of the very tensions to which they owe their birth—you will not get any simple joy from the, The pleasure they give is of a typically dubious Baconian character. The fact that truth is often painful is exactly what makes it preferable, and on a deep level actually more pleasurable, than rose-tinted fiction.

Bacon has dredged deeply and agonisingly into the spring of existence. What he brings up is murky, rich, even rank, but it is certainly one aspect of truth. I believe that future generations will continue to be moved by it, and even, which might alarm Bacon, find it totally beautiful.

 

              

                                                                        'I LIKE DISORDER'

 Bacon’s studio is heaped with old photographs, magazines, paint tubes, broken glass. I like disorder, but I know exactly where to find everything’.

 

 

 

Francis Bacon

 

 

ROBERT MELVILLE | STUDIO INTERNATIONAL | VOLUME 173 NUMBER 888 | APRIL 1967

 

 

During the long period when Francis Bacon returned again and again to the compulsive task of painting a shouting Pope, many people found it difficult to come to terms with the fact that he is one of the greatest painters of the twentieth century. Since then the artist himself has come to their aid by giving the paint a certain narcissistic demonstrativeness, almost as if it were a personage in its own right, and like the bride who hogs the photograph of the happy couple, it has become, to use an obsolete phrase, the cynosure of all eyes.

Some spectators who were hitherto repelled by the mixed emotions aroused in them by the imagery find no difficulty in considering the recent pictures exhibited in Paris and London as brilliant configurations of paint, addressed exclusively to the aesthetic sense. With the aplomb of those Victorian ladies who learnt the trick of looking at Renaissance paintings of the Virgin and Child without seeing the child's penis, we shall soon be able to ignore the imagery altogether. These paint strokes, more active than anything in action painting, are marvellously certain of themselves as the paint-strokes with which Rembrandt investigated in his old ageing face, and are summary flourishes at the edges of some of the portraits—such as the heavily blue swirls on the jacket in the portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne purchased for the Tate collection—which demonstrate a virtuosity as dazzling as John Singer Sargent's used to be. Any dislocation of the features in these portraits must be attributed to the artist's realization that the malleability of flesh is Nature's supreme gift to human pleasure. It will be seen that under the activity of the brush-strokes the faces retain the impassivity of the posing model, and ensure the slaps and slashes and the expert bruising with all the submissiveness of a multitude of Christs at the mercy of a single tormentor. As well they might. The circle of friends who pose for him and are identified in his titles are assured of a kind of immortality.

It cannot be doubted that the exhibition at MARLBOROUGH FINE ART* marks a crucial stage in his career and that it will have far-reaching effects upon the critical assessment of his work and his international standing. He is being rapidly transformed into an Establishment figure, and it seems likely that gallery directors who have so far been prevented from acquiring a Bacon, by committees which have not encountered the pictures in which the paint presents a strong counter-attraction to the imagery will now be given the green light. With so much beautiful paint to be admired, it will be taken for granted that responsible critics will not in future refer to what they think the paintings may be about. It is evident that reliance on subjective evaluations are becoming increasingly unsatisfactory. (The last sentence is copied from an article on scent which deplores  the unscientific and rather vulgar practice of sniffing the stuff to find out if it has a good commercial smell). Critics will have to learn not to be voyeurs. Whatever it is that sets an artist to work, whether it be a jug or a male nude with one leg up the wall, is entirely the artist's own affair, and I can foresee the time when a critic who has forgetfully described the painting of a nude sitting on the lavatory pan as a nude sitting on the lavatory pan will be hauled before the Press Council for invading the artist's privacy.

People sometimes tend to forget that it is a sign that one's in the presence of a masterpiece if a painting still looks absolutely right when it's upside down; but one has only to think of a Mondrian, or better still one of Ad Reinhardt's all-black panels, to realise that it's the surest of tests. It is to be hoped that it will not be necessary for gallery directors in difficult areas to hang their Bacons upsidedown to prove that they are masterpieces, but it's quite certain that they would survive the test and probably reveal unsuspected felicities. This certainly seemed to be the case when I looked the wrong way up at a colour reproduction of the nude sitting on a lavatory pan. Released from its utalitarian situation under the bottom of the nude, the lavatory pan became scarcely less mysterious than the urinal which hung from a string in Duchamp's exhibition at the TATE GALLERY. The grey shape which, when the picture is right way up, appears to be either a shadow cast by the figure or a spreading pool of liquid from a leak in the pan, became the phantom of an unknown creature, and the pan itself took on something of the appearance of a floppy blue and white beret, and one could appreciate it more acutely by its excremental associations.

I do not know whether the artist himself is aware of the change in his status but the extracts from interviews recorded by David Sylvester which appears in the Marlborough catalogue seem to register a change in his verbal reflections which would be consistent with such an awareness. He is smilingly dismissive of a number of the earlier works on which some of us expended unlimited praise. But I for one make no apologies if I hailed him as a great painter before he actually became one. I have never pretended that my praise was judicious. His work represented an attitude to painting and to life which I found wholly admirable. It claimed my allegiance. He now likens his many paraphrases of Pope Innocent X by Velásquez to a schoolboys crush on his housemaster. ‘I’ve always thought this was one of the greatest paintings in the world, and Ive had a crush on it, and  I’ve tried  very very unsuccessfully to do certain records of it. Distorted records. Of course I regret them because I think they're very silly.

I think it might be true to say that after time he went on painting them almost as if it had become a habit difficult to break, and the last one, painted in 1965, was probably his worst, totally out of touch with the spirit in which  the earlier versions were conceived. At the time it was exhibited I mentioned that it had gone dead and looked like something stuffed. The critics who never had a good word to say about any of them will be congratulating themselves on having been right all along, but it never occurred to me that he might be attempting to emulate Velásquez. His Popes are not really paraphrases, but deliberate travesties. There was an element of collage in them. Nigel Gosling reproduced one of them in his recent feature in an Observer colour supplement to show that the head was based on the famous still of the screaming governess in Potemkin and there is a sense in which Bacon was doing the same sort of thing to the Velásquez that Duchamp did to the Mona Lisa when he added the moustache. From this point of view, Bacon's Popes are Dada's greatest triumph. They exploit the allure of the insulted masterpiece with a brilliance which carries its own intimations of grandeur, and recall the spirit in which Caravaggio debunked Michelangelo's superhuman nudes in his Nude Youth with a Ram.

Since then, the emotional and intellectual climate in which he works seems to have assumed a weird peacefulness. Some of the paintings in his present exhibition would look at home beside the Velásquez, for he has somehow come to a kind of neutrality. The paint has never looked more authoritative and voluptuous and it gives what people think of as his ‘tragic awareness’ an almost ingratiating blandness. Pulling vicarious flesh this way and that, he has settled into a macabre serenity.

Until April 14

 

   

              Portrait of George Dyer crouching 1966  Oil on canvas, 78 x 58 in. Marlborough Fine Art

 

 

 

Cosmopolitan cluster

 

 

ALAN DENT | CINEMA THE ILLUSTRATED LONDON NEWS | APRIL 15, 1967

 

THE FARE IN NOTHING if not varied. So This is God's Country? (Prince Charles) is an Italian view of the multifariousness of life today in the United States of America. Opus (made by our Central Office of Information, and to be shown at Cannes and Montreal this spring and summer) is a documentary survey of the fine arts in Great Britain this last year or two. Intimate Lighting (Paris-Pullman) is one of those naturalistic and domestic comedies in which Czechoslovakia has lately proved itself so fresh and adept. Lost Sex (Jacey, Charing Cross Road) is a morbid and mordant film from Japan that begins in the key of farce and ends in the key of tragedy.

The half-hour British film called Opus is, on the other hand, solely and declaredly concerned with the fine arts—or, at least, the best that we can put on show. We see our own latest Hamlet, David Warner, turning the poetry of Shakespeare into the bleakest of prose (which is the way the very young seem to like it these days). We see the Royal Ballet in a recent offering called Monotones, a title which is its own criticism. We hear some fair music by Britten and Tippett, and we behold the Beatles. We see some of that arbitrary slashing of paint on canvas which is called "action painting," and which I had hoped was "out" by this time. And we see some of the sinister studio-work of the painter Francis Bacon, whose canvases used to give me a rather enjoyable macabre shudder—until the other day, when an ultra-modern art critic wrote an appreciation of Bacon in a high-class Sunday paper containing the sentence: "His paintings seem to have been squeezed out of him by a convulsion of the spiritual bowels, relieving him of some pressure too painful to retain." The fine arts with us, in short, appear to be in a bad way, and the fine art of art-criticism seems to be in a way that is even worse.

 

 

 

Bacon in New York

 

 

THE FINANCIAL TIMES | 8 NOVEMBER 1968

 

FRANCIS BACON, for my money our best living painter, is off shortly to the United States for, surprisingly, the first time: an exhibition of his latest paintings opens on November 11 at the Marlborough-Gerson Gallery in New York (which, the Bacon market being brisk, means they are unlikely to be seen here again). Bacon had had plenty of shows in America—the most recent being a retrospective at the Guggenheim in 1963—but this is the first time he has felt moved to make the trip; and even now he regards the prospect with rather mixed feelings.

The New York show amounts to 20 paintings, all portraits or figures, most of them large and two of them triptychs—representing about a year of hard labour: "suddenly I was able to do a lot", he says. He will be staying at the Algonquin hotel, which everyone said was very nice until yesterday, when someone said it wasn't; for how long he is not sure, perhaps 10 days or so.

Bacon has recently returned from several weeks in South Africa, where his mother (who remarried there after the death of his father, and after going out to see his sister, who married a South African) has been ill. It was one of his few breaks in the last 15 months.

On January 7, Bacon will join Moussorgsky's friend Victor Hartman, who painted the Pictures from an Exhibition, among those few artists who have inspired musicians (the reverse is more common); his friend Gerard Schürmann, former conductor of the Dutch radio orchestra, is in the throes of writing a work called Seven Studies of Francis Bacon, which will receive its first performance at the Dublin Festival of Twentieth Century Music on that day: a suitable venue, as Bacon was born and lived for his first 16 years in Ireland.

Schürmann, a close friend of Alan Rawsthorne (whose wife Isabel formerly married to the late Constant Lambert, has in turn been the subject of several Bacon portraits, including two in the New York show), says the work may also be performed at the Holland Festival next summer, when it is hope there may be a Bacon exhibition.

 

 

       

                                                     Francis Bacon in New York

 

 

Francis Bacon

 

First Major N.Y. Gallery Show

 

by GREGORY BATTCOCK | ARTS MAGAZINE | VOLUME 43 NUMBER 2 | NOVEMBER 1968

 

Francis Bacon paints both objects and figures in much the same way. One result is that it is sometimes difficult to determine exactly where one stops and the other begins. In Portrait of George in a Mirror, one of the new paintings at Marlborough-Gerson, the figure, furnishing and mirror not only co-exist but overlap as well. They all seem to exist as a single identity—thus identification of the individual elements themselves (in this case figure and objects) is in crises. In another new painting, Man Getting up From a Chair both the man and the chair appear stuck together, as if they are, more or less, one. The man actually appears to be trying to separate himself from the chair. Thus Francis Bacon illustrates the modern problem of man, in solitude and without firm identification attempting to renew his acquaintance with the changing environment. This problem, articulated in Existential philosophy, was first illustrated in painting by the Surrealists. Bacon contributes the Expressionist sensibility, thus rounding out the predicament and becoming, should a label prove necessary, a Surreal-Expressionist.

However, as the Surrealists predecessors of Existentialist art knew, the problem is deeper than one of simple identification. The Minimalists have reminded us that it is, ultimately, the enclosure of the environment that has the last word. The inevitable, architectural enclosure of the modern environmental space is, of course, the walls, ceiling and floor, and everything that goes with them. This enclosure not only goes a long way in determining the relationship between the objects (figures) that are enclosed therein (much like the "frame" of the picture surface) but, since it is necessarily part of the complete environment, it commands recognition of itself.

We needn't be confined to the field of art in order to find examples of this contemporary phenomenon. In ordinary, everyday situations, we often find our intimate environments enclosed by walls. Modern man paints the walls white. By doing so, he emphasises his relationships with his objects, and attempts to reduce the awesome authority of the enclosure itself. (One might point out that the ultimate way of reducing the authority of the enclosure, or in this case the walls, would be to simply utilize floor to ceiling glass. That would be too drastic a step, however. Man does not want to totally eliminate authority—only to subdue it). While modern man cannot tolerate the authoritarianism of the essential enclosure, he nevertheless seeks out the security that the enclosure provides. Notice what has happened on the modern dance or discotheque floor. The security of a clinging partner and clearly marked off dance floor has been replaced by the new acknowledgement of the whole group. We observe that the space for dancing is now determined by the lights, noise level, and shape of the enclosure itself. Similarly, in painting, the heavy frame has been replaced by a tacit acknowledgement by the painter of the surface edge. Today, we prefer a few large rooms to lots of little ones. Why does modern man love his car so much, and hate to leave it—even when it becomes an obstacle to efficient, economical transportation?

Let's look, for a moment, at the enclosures Bacon allows his spaces. Frequently, they are ambiguous. In his superb triptych, Two Figures Lying on a Bed With Attendants Bacon surrounds his spacial property with an articulate but weak "wall." It has been left blank. The only painted  areas refer to doors and windows. How different was the view of the painter of the early Renaissance who insisted on substantial walls. The only escape from his precisely defined space—from his enclosure—was through a partially open window or unlatched door. Repeatedly Bacon illustrates a vague and "open" backdrop.  In Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne Standing is a Street in Soho the artist has painted a sort of frame around the standing figure. The spaces between the  frame are open. A fragment of the figure leaks through the enclosure. The background of the picture—a street scene—is equally awesome, as it refuses to lend security or definition to the condition of poor Isabel Rawsthorne. A similar non-confining enclosure exposes the  mushy piles of lumps of the right hand panel of Triptych 1967.

It is true that in several of the new paintings, the artist has painted in a background that is recognizable and complete. However, it should be pointed out that in all these paintings Man Getting up From a Chair and Portrait ofGeorge Dyer and Lucian Freud for example the background consists entirely f a curtain. Therefore nothing really substantial is offered. The curtain could be be merely a temporary marking delineating space for convenience, sake, as in a photography studio, or "set" for television programming. Indeed, nothing in the pictures suggests that the background is anything but a temporary theatrical marking.

Thus it would appear that the subject of Bacon's paintings is man, and his contemporary psychological, sociological and metaphysical condition. While his manner of illustrating this subject maybe unique, the subject itself is certainly not. Indeed, this is the very subject of all serious and worthwhile contemporary art, whether it be the haunting "strips" of Barnett Newman, so open to Existentialist interpellation, or the "drips" of Jackson Pollock with their origin traced to the Post-Freudian need to experience the fact of the subconscious. It is the same subject we find in the paintings of Ellsworth Kelly and the sculptures of Robert Morris—both artists profoundly committed to the contemporary condition of man and his speculations concerning his surroundings. How then do the paintings of Bacon differ from the primarily abstract pronouncements by the above mentioned artists?

Firstly, Bacon comes to us through a primarily Surrealist heritage. Yet he is not a Pop artist in the school of George Segal or Tom Wesselmann, for example. Nor is Bacon a realist in the style of Ernest Trova or Enrique Castro-Cid. And Bacon's figures, while macabre, cannot be categorized along with the entombed  and encased images of Paul Thek, or the figurative juxtapositions of Joseph Raphaele. A comparison between Two Figures Lying on a Bed With Attendants and the State Hospital of Kienholz is a tempting one, but ultimately cannot be satisfactory—if only because one work is a painting and the other, sculpture.

My point is, that despite the catholicity and vitality of his subject, Bacon remains a remarkably individual painter. His well known, easily identifiable style is more traditional than avant garde. The modern glittering material culture, together with the superficial amenities that it offers, are rejected by this iconoclastic artist.

 

 

 

The Problem of Francis Bacon

 

 

By HILTON KRAMER | THE NEW YORK TIMES | NOVEMBER 17, 1968

 

Few contemporary painters give the impression of enjoying allor even mostof the expressive prerogatives that once belonged to the art they practiced. Distinction is nowadays achieved by narrowing, not enlarging, one's focus. Painting has become a highly restricted enterprise. Certain resourcesparticularly what is known as the "literary" element in paintingare rigorously eschewed. Othersall that is meant by the decorative and the abstractare carried to the most astonishing extremes.

The English painter Francis Bacon seems to be the great exception. He is, to be sure, one of the most dazzling pictorial technicians on the current scene. The new paintings he is showing at the Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, 41 East 57th Street, are virtuoso performances of a kind that are rare even in an age of extraordinary technique. They deliberately court comparison with the masters. Their sheer authority isat first glance anywayoverwhelming.

That this authority derives in large measure from the painter's unashamed reliance on illustration is not, in this case, particularly damaging. This alone would make Mr. Bacon an unusual artist. Illustration is, for most of our painters, an original sin which they labor strenuously to be absolved of. Mr. Bacon is a master of this despised esthetic atavism, and does not hesitate to flaunt this mastery. He gets away with it, too. For he is also in possession  of an unerring pictorial intelligence.  He is one of those painters who appears to achieve exactly what he sets out to achieve.

Clearly he has a lot more on his mind than exercises in technical excellence, however. He is a visionary of a particular sorta specialist in the grotesqueries of modern life. He is a connoisseur of extreme emotions, with a taste for the macabre and a gift for transmuting the psychopathology of everyday life into a compelling and very personal pictorial imagery. There is nothing of the commonplace in his work. Everything is pitches to the intensity of a scream. The pressure is unremitting, a little brutal, and more than a little calculated. Yet, despite the calculation, it has the force of an involuntary avowal.

Why, then, does it strike me as being clever rather than profoundbrilliant rather than authentic? I know of few contemporary paintings that make as strong an impact on first viewing as Mr. Bacon's, yet it is not an impact that lasts. The scream fills one's ears, but thenunexpectedlyone discerns in it a curious musical resonance. It is not a cry of pain, after all, but a well composed aria. What seemed, at first, like raw emotion turns out to be a form of artifice. The emotional temperature drops rather suddenly. A world of exacerbated feeling and desperate appetites, which only a moment ago seemed seemed to press so hard on our consciousness, dissolves, and we are once again on the familiar terrain of  the contemporary artistback in the studio, where the decisions are cool, technical and deliberate.

This, for me, is the problem perhaps I should say the obstaclewhich Mr. Bacon's painting invariably presents. An inevitable depiction seems built into its style. His portraits and portrait studies, of which there are many in the current show, promise much in the way of psychological definition. But there is, alas, no individuation in them. The psychology turns out to be uniforman intense neurasthenia which easily resolves itself into esthetic composure.

One's interest in Mr. Bacon's painting shifts straightaway from the particularity of the subject to the distortions the artist indulges in the rendering. These distortionsthe mouth endowed with a blurred animal madness, the limbs strained in some desperate but not quite readable gesture, entire bodies contorted in miserable missions of passion make a large purchase on our attention, but then disappoint us. We are left, not with a penetrating insight into the agony of the species, but with a mannered and deftly turned style. It is only then that one grows a little queasy, finding that one admires the expertisethe incomparable cleverness and facilityof the way a nose  or a forehead pr behind has been so handsomely modelled with a heavily loaded brush when a moment earlier it seemed as if one were going to be the unwilling witness to some unspeakable act.

Which is to say Mr. Bacon is not above titillating our expectation of the violent and even the obscene. He is not, I hasten to add, an obscene painterfar from it. But he does have a way of placing his audience in the position of disappointed voyeurs. His preoccupation with private acts of sexual violence turns out to be amazingly sociable. His depiction of male nudes mat aspire to a condition of existential candor, but it concludes in a kind of perverse parody of Rubenesque hedonism. Everything the artist touchesall these themes of anguish, all these evocation of the forbiddenturn to art, one is tempted to say "mere" art. In the end, one feels a kind of fraud has been perpetrated.

But mine is, apparently, a minority view of this peculiar achievement. Read Professor Lawrence Gowing's heated essay in the catalogue of the current exhibition, and you will have a better idea of the established judgement—established, at least, in Londonof Mr. Bacon's work. This is the opening paragraph of Professor Gowing's text:

In London this year I have felt a distracting reverberation in the air. It is generated by the knowledge that a mile down the street, too close for comfort, Francis Bacon is in tremendous form, painting continuously and surely disturbing something that one would sooner leave settled ... Waiting for a new group of pictures I tremble a little, lose track of my thoughts, wake in the night. Every time that the image that emerges can be counted on to strike directly at a vital and vulnerable sense. One has no way of preparing or protecting oneself. There is an uncommon kind of painting, which, when it really penetrates, alters everything. For some unknown reason, one's private view of oneself is at stake.

One would be hard-pressed to find a painter in the entire history of art who answered to this descriptioneven Bosch somehow falls short. But that is not the point, I suppose. Professor Gowing expresses very eloquently what one assumes to be the "correct" response to Mr. Bacon's art. Later on he talks a good deal about "paint," and that, too, is part of the correct attitude. Yet, oddly enough, all these paintings"an uncommon kind of painting which ... alters everything"somehow manage to get themselves sold and somehow manage to hang in both public and private salons without changing anything. For myself, I trust these collectors more than I trust Mr. Gowing's text.  They recognize exactly how safe an artist Mr. Bacon really is.

 

 

         

                                        Francis Bacon's "Three Studies from the Human Body" (1967)

                                                                        An incomparable cleverness and facility

 

 

 

 Prelude to Butchery

 

    TIME | FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 29, 1968

 

    

 

The triptych centers on what can only be a dismembered corpse, with blood spattered on the castoff clothing and zippered travel bag. On either side are matching panels, which may—or may not—be the orgiastic prelude to butchery. On the left, two plump nude figures lie exhausted on a curious coffee table covered with mattresses and fitted with a mirror for self-viewing. On the right, two figures are ravenously devouring each other, while the mirror this time picks up the image of an attendant voyeur calmly chatting on the telephone. The work is by Britain's Francis Bacon, 59, currently being shown at Manhattan's Marlborough-Gerson Gallery. The new proud possessor is the multimillion-dollar Joseph H. Hirshhorn Foundation, which already owns seven Bacons and cheerfully parted with an estimated $150,000 to buy this one.

Bacon's show may prove to be the most popular of the season; in the first week, all 19 oils have been either sold or reserved for prices ranging upward from $35,000 for the smallest multiple-image portraits. For nearly 20 years, he has been renowned in inner circles as Britain's finest figurative painter; his works have hung in U.S. museums since the early 1950s. His commercial success is a telling comment on just how open-minded the general public has become, for Bacon's material is, to put it simply, sick.

Most of the canvases he paints depict pulpy male nudes who couple lewdly on beds or sit like withdrawn junkies in cell-like boxes. The current show also includes many grotesquely distorted portraits of his friends, among them George Dyer, his studio assistant, Isabel Rawsthorne, wife of Composer Alan Rawsthorne, and Painter Lucian Freud, Sigmund's grandson. On one canvas, a hypodermic syringe rises from what looks like a well-beaten body, while in a corner of another a bird that has been plucked stark naked screeches desperately on his perch.

Foetus Crouch. Bacon, of course, makes no bones about the fact that the obsessive subject of his paintings is homosexual despair. He argues, however, that the despair he has observed among heterosexuals amounts to more or less the same thing. Certainly the horror and fascination with which some viewers respond to his works seem to support his contention.

To capture the feverish, nightmare quality of the experiences Bacon depicts, he has developed what is essentially a surrealist dream style to near perfection. Every brush stroke bears the mark of absolute conviction, from the fields of poison green and fetid lilac that deck his backdrops to the calculated white ejaculatory splats that he lashes across the legs of his subjects. There is hatred and hostility in Bacon's vision, but of late it seems to be mellowing. Nothing in his current show comes near to matching the insane intensity of his screaming popes of 1949-53. A study of three male bodies, to be sure, shows one crouched like a foetus and another with his leg in a splint, but the third, who dangles apelike from a pole, has an amiable if freakish mien. A woman lounging in a deck chair turns a face wreathed in a hideous grimace—yet, on second glance, it is obviously nothing more than the grin of a well-fed Cheshire cat.

 

 

 

 

FRANCIS BACON AT SIXTY

 

 

JOHN RUSSELL | ART IN AMERICA | JANUARY-FEBRUARY 1970

 

That Francis Bacon should no be sixty years old is one of the most brutish tricks that chronology has lately played us—a real coup de Jarnac, a low blow struck when and where we least expect it. Bacon ha a look, a face, a walk and an outlook on life to which no age can be ascribed. He is at home with al ages and in all societies. Not for a moment would one associate him with a time of a life at which people begin to take things easily. He has a colossal reserve of energy and a constitution which is proof against all excesses. Like Socrates in the "Symposium," he can talk all night and go off to work in the morning as if nothing had happened. He can also run, and survive, risks which were not in the Socratic canon: less than a year ago he broke his nose twice in the space of fours weeks—once to put it out of joint, as he said later, and once again to put it back into shapewithout taking a day off from the studio.

But there it is: he was born on October 27, 1909, and is therefore now sixty. Not to "be one's age," and above all not to look it, can be the sign as Henry James once said of Zola, of "someone with arrears of personal history to make ip." An unmarked face  and a rudderless  eclecticism are not good auguries for an artist. Bacon's tastes are strong, narrow and consistent, while his face is recognizably a battlefield, though one which the shell holes and tank tracks heal quickly. At home he spends much of his time day-dreaming , like a big cat in a cage. With his shirtsleeves pulled up to his elbows he sits of half-lies, most often with one leg drawn up beneath him and held firmly with a large hand that is particularly full and broad in the palm. When he gets up and crosses the room it is with a characteristic stamping spring-healed tread and a quick glance to left and right, as if the walls were transparent as  those of a cage and something, somewhere outside, was about to come within reach of the big cat's claws.

His room is not so much untidy as beyond any notion of tidiness or untidiness an equinoctial tide of printed matter, much of it illustrated, washes against the walls. There are two jumbo  sofas, both covered in spinach-green velvet, a bed in the shape of an elephant's foot, a large Boulle chest of drawers that might have come from a French provincial town-house, a mirror cracked in several places and a plain wooden table that would suit for a dinner party of eight or ten. The books are there for use, not for looks, and the electric light hangs unshaded from the ceiling. The telephone functions only in an outgoing direction, for Bacon inclines toward Degas's definition of the telephone as a tyrant that would have us droop everything and come running. As far as humanly possible he has disembarrassed himself of possessions and of everything else that could inhibit the drives of instinct He uses money as an instrument of liberty, not as as an instrument of powerand by "liberty" he means the freedom to go or not to go anywhere, at any time, in any company.

The "freedom not to go" is a commonplace among New York artists, and is in fact fundamental to a highly energized art scene  in which it is taken for granted that the artist leads a life that cuts all the bourgeois concerns. In London, the art scene, insofar as there is one, is relatively soft-grained and unexacting, and it is rare for an artist to retain into late middle age anything like the absolute independence of convention that comes naturally to people in their early twenties. Official committees, the Honours List, a comfortably house in the country—all these are seducers and betrayers. But the most insidious of all is the tendency to go easy with oneself. Bacon has never yielded to this. He has, in fact, got progressively harder on himself over the last decade, forswearing more and more the sudden disappearance to Paris or Monte Carlo and maintaining a working routine that goes on day in day out for months together.

The consequences of that routine have been curiously untouched by criticism. Bacon himself rarely reads what people now have to say about his work—"If I did, I'd stop working altogether"—but others may well be struck by the fact that much of it could have been written the late 1940s. It is common ground with a great many critics  that Bacon's work has to do with a particularized revulsion before the conditions of human life,  and that his feelings on this subject are set down in a hectic, virtuosic way that has elements of Gothic horror. Some speak of "safe taste"—meaning  presumably that in their view the revulsion has become stylized and unmeaningful—and there are younger people who see only archaic self-indulgence and personality-mongering in the attempt to conjugate, at this stage of the game, an idea of human identity with an idea of European figure-painting in the grand manner. But for the most part all articles on Bacon are reflections of the disquiet and astonishment with which his first major independent statement were received in the late 1940s.

This is of course a tribute to the staying power of pictures like the Three Studies in the Tate Gallery in London and the very large painting which which Alfred Barr bought early on for the Museum of Modern Art. But it also shows a peculiar dull-wittedness toward an oeuvre which has gone on developing and is arguably more remarkable now than at any previous time. Two possible contributory factors could be addressed; first that Bacon is in many ways a solitary figure, not at all easy to pin down, and second that critics tend to fall back, not unnaturally, on remarks that he is reported to have made on one occasion or another. Some of these remarks have in fact been taken  out of context so often that they function almost as holy relics—St. Christopher medals, destined to prevent the traveler from coming to too much harm. For this reason it seems worthwhile to offer a new general account of Bacon's position.

The first thing to be said is that, although Bacon has a profound understanding of many aspects of modern life,  he is himself a product of a society now dead and gone: that of the Anglo-Irish gentry of shortly before 1914. These were people who behaved with an easy freedom, a spontaneous open-handedness and a seemingly total immunity from social conscience. Bacon has inherited many of these traits, though in point of fact few people are capable of greater delicacy and loyalty in personal relations, and one may also trace to childhood influences his ready acceptance of others' frailties. He would like his friends to behave  well, and to do well; but, if they don't, he is not the man to give them a lecture. In such matters he is the master of lucid pessimism: Lady Macbeth's "All may yet be well" would draw from him a full-toned "But it's much more likely that it won't." ("Troilus and Cressida" impressed him enormously when he saw it done by the Royal Shakespeare Company in London last season; it's mingling of love and war, slander and betrayal , is one that lies close to his own experience.)

These underlying factors apart, Bacon has had since childhood a strong and lasting idea of what happens to human beings when their instincts are satisfied fully, single-mindedly and without regret. He saw this in his own family, he saw it among their neighbors both in Ireland and elsewhere, and he saw it among the servants. Servants were 2off limits" for good little boys at that time, but Bacon was not a good little boy and soon found that the company of his father's grooms was a great deal more rewarding than that available downstairs. His father practiced intermittently the profession of racehorse trainer, and this brought Bacon into touch with another element in his life: the propensity to gamble.

Bacon enjoys gambling very much and at one time could have been described as a professional gambler. He also enjoys the company of other gambles: the nightlong sessions at the table, the dizzying reversals of fortune and the whole milieu in which the standards of bourgeois life—thrift, sobriety, the long slow haul toward prosperity—Stare by implication ridiculed. His childhood and youth were spent in largely nomadic circumstances, moving from one house to another, from one environment to another; and gambling is a form of financial nomadism, a pitching of the monetary tent on ground that may turn out either to be floored with gold or to lead straight to a sewer.

All this relates more closely to the work than might be supposed. The role of gambling in the work has often been stressed by Bacon himself; he sees the act of painting in terms of a trap that may or may not be sprung, and his intention has always been to raise the stakes from one canvas to the next His early experience was of people lived with complete insouciance and cared nothing whatever for bourgeois hesitations: one glass too many, an unthinkable throw of a card, an imprudent faith is a horse or its rider, and they were ruined. In such people the heart is also often a nomad; bizarre passions spring up, are quickly slacked and fade away without a trace. Promises turn out to be written in water, and what looks like a stable, unified, consistent human being shows up in its true light as fugitive and polyvalent. That was the kind of experience that was fed into Bacon's imagination when he was young.

The next central fact about Bacon is his Europeanness. He responds undividedly only to an area bounded by Dublin to the northwest and the Nile Valley to the southeast. (Egyptian art should on day be ransacked by art historians in search of Bacon's affinities.) In literature his allegiances are to the great European writers who in the last analysis take a stoical view of human affairs: Aeschylus, Shakespeare, Joyce and Yeats, with the Eliot of "The Waste Land" and "Sweeney Agonistes" as their lawful successor. What sets him apart from many younger people is his acceptance of the idea that there are certain fatal, built-in, irrevocable flaws in human nature, that these call the odds in our terrestrial life and that that is all we have. It is this, and not any factitious "horror," which is the basis of Bacon's art.

It is implicit in many criticisms of his work that he exaggerates  the darker side of life,  or blackens it gratuitously in the interests of a frisson too cheaply bought. His own feeling in that respect is, I think, that such an opinion could only be held by someone who  has never read a  newspaper, never looked at news on television, and above all never participated at first hand in life as it has actually been lived over the last fifty or sixty years. What people call "exaggerated" seems to him, if anything, understated.  The facts of life are such that we all, of course, practice one form or another of defensive rigidity; we stiffen, hold tight and look another way. We do this in the present, and we also do it about the past. There are millions of people now  living who know what it is to kill another man , to beat and be beaten, to run for one's life and to cower at a knock on the door. If these people dislike looking at art which relates to those experiences, no one can blame them; but that does not make it any the less ludicrous to say of a painting like Bacon's Fragment of a Crucifixion (1950) that it represents a warped or partial  view of life.

Crime is to ill-nature what gambling is to precariousness and ephemerality of human existence: a specialized, localized, concentrated subspecies. Crime is ill-nature brought to a high pitch of intensity and focused on a single defined object; Bacon knows a great deal about evil doers, old and new,  whether they come from the House of Atreus or crime reports in  the London Times.  He knows them in literature—one recent triptych was prompted by the wonderfully adroit and  and casual presentation of murder in Eliot's "Sweeney Agonistes"—and he knows them in life. The demonology of European crime finds in him one of the liveliest word-of-mouth historians; but in the way of personal acquaintance he prefers people  who turn to crime primarily  as a way of changing their circumstances quickly and with the least possible effort: up dated versions of Till Eulenspiegel, in short, who are as much from mischievous high spirits, or from  esprit de corps as from any satanic motive "Criminals are a bore," he has been heard to say, £but  they do have tremendous vitality."

Anyone can see that many of Bacon's paintings have to do with violence, or with the state of hypertension that leads to it.  What is not quite so obvious, or so easy to write about,  is the element of private affection that underlies many of his finest paintings over the last ten years. Bacon paints the same few people, over and over again.; they are people whom he knows very well indeed. "If they weren't  such close friends," he says, "I couldn't do such things to them."  They have in common certain qualities that are sympathetic to Bacon: wit, resilience, energy, extravagance and an absolute intention to do what they want to do, no matter what society says. They are people who waste no time putting up a social front and keeping it in careful repair. What reads like "virtuosity" to some critics, in these recent portraits, seems to me more like the extreme agility needed to catch an exceptionally vivid character unaware.

This brings me to another aspect of Bacon's Europeanness: his identification with the European tradition of the formal portrait, on the one hand, and the Interior with Figures on the other. The task of the painter who wishes to continue that tradition is now difficult to the point of impossibility. "I only go on painting," Bacon said last year, "because of the illogicality of the way in which appearances can be rendered." Bacon's object in painting appearances is to be exact in a new way and not, as many people suppose, to put on a bravura performance. What kind of mark will convey the facts as they have never been conveyed before? That is the question. Ideally, Bacon would like to preserve the element of risk without any loss of monumentality. This is what "raising the stakes" means., in terms o his painting.  It means keeping the exploratory character of Seurat's oil-sketches while going on to paint on the scale of the Grande Jatte. "When Seurat painted the oil-sketches,, and the same mark could stand for the leaf on on the tree and the ear of the monkey, it was tremendously exciting," he once said. "But when those marks got enlarged, and the affinity was formalized, we were left with a boring 'modern art' image."

Bacon is a connoisseur of real-life photographic images in which distortion turns out to render fact  a service by presenting it more completely and truthfully. His age counts, in this; he was a young man when what was then called "the candid camera" took over from the disinfected and respectful images of an earlier day.  Something of the immediacy, the salutary shock, of those photographs of the 1920s and early '30s is an important factor in Bacon's art.  It was the candid camera which first emphasized the odd and obsessional character of the way people behave in rooms.  In old-style portraiture everybody behaves perfectly; no one picks his nose, no one wanders about half-dressed, no one abdicates his public persona—all fantasises are repressed. This is not  how people really behave, either when they are alone or when they have an accomplice with whom to live out their fantasies. Bacon's pictures are about this unacknowledged side of life.

A true but not literal portrait: that is what he is after, whether the thing portrayed is an individual human being or a group situation. He would like to contribute a new chapter to the history of recorded appearances. Everything that history can teach him he knows by now; the rest is instinct: "I see my pictures." he said just lately, "as an exteriorization of my instincts One's instincts cover a much wider area than one's actual experience. I love gambling, as everyone always says, and I do think of painting as very like gambling. But it's not quite so chancy The drive involved is too strong for it to be a matter of simple chance. It's not 'lucky chance' that counts, but chance as luck—luck that would help me to bring over to myself the images I want to record. These have to do with the body, and with appearance, and above all with behavior. The image has behaviorist implications, and I can't unlatch the one from the other."

When Bacon first shows a new painting there is usually a period during which attention is fixed primarily on the way it has been done: the extent, in other words,  to which he has avoided producing "a boring 'modern art' image." History then takes over and the picture becomes, often rapidly,  part of the continuum of European painting.  The Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne Standing in a Street in Soho looked, for instance, perfectly at home among the earlier paintings when the new National Gallery was opened last year in Berlin. It was quite difficult to remember that Bacon had taken a great many risks in this picture and had incorporated layer upon layer of identifiable fact about a blowy afternoon in Soho, with the blue awnings on the rampage, an automobile of ancient cut parked by the curb, and Isabel Rawsthorne herself (an unmistakable figure in that part of London) seen as circumstantially  as if she were in a street scene  that was done by Degas and Bonnard.

Bacon did not go to Berlin, but the painting is one of the few he can bear to discuss, and he was quite pleased to hear of the effect it had created. "I'm always terribly surprised if anyone likes my paintings," he said, "because really I just do them for myself."

 

   

     Francis Bacon photographed in his studio by J. S. Lewinski

 

 

 

Artist charged

 

THE BIRMINGHAM DAILY POST | THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 3, 1970

 

Francis Bacon (60), the artist, was charged at Chelsea police station yesterday with possessing cannabis.

He is to appear in court at Marlborough Street today.

Bacon, Dublin-born, lives in Reece Mews, South Kensington, London.

 

 

Artist is cleared

 

THE BIRMINGHAM DAILY POST | THURSDAY JUNE 3, 1971

 

Francis Bacon (61), the artist, was cleared of two drug charges yesterday.

Bacon, described in court as a "painter of international fame," told the court that he could not have smoked cannabis found in his house because he is asthmatic.

An application for the defence costs of the hearing at the Inner London Sessions, was postponed by Judge Leslie.

Miss Ann Curnow, prosecuting, said that detectives and a dog trained to search for drugs, had found a pipe stem and cannabis at the artist's home.

Bacon pleased not guilty to having 2.1 grams of cannabis on September 2, and also denied a similar offense on or before that date.

Miss Curnow said he invited the police into his home at Reece Mews, Chelsea.

When he was shown the pipe stem he said: "I have various people coming here. It has been here for ages, and I suppose it must belong to them."

 

 

 

 

  Out of the Black Hole

 

 

      ROBERT HUGHES | TIME | MONDAY, DECEMBER 13, 1971

 

      

 

Two naked figures, faces obscenely eroded by electric-blue shadows, sprawl on a bed. A man huddles like a baboon on the edge of what might be a swing, a coffee table or a hangman's drop. A Pope howls silently behind glass.

There is little need to say who painted them. At 62, Francis Bacon is one of the most immediately recognizable painters in the world. For the past 25 years, critics have predicted the collapse of his reputation. Yet by now it seems that Bacon is one of the very few living artists whose work can (but does not always) exhibit the mysterious denseness of meaning, the grip on experience, which are the conditions of a masterpiece. "Who ever heard," he once sarcastically asked, "of anyone buying one of my pictures because he liked it?" But the tributes fall heavy, and the latest is a full-dress retrospective of 108 works in Paris, displayed in the Grand Palais, through the auspices of the French government—the first time France has so honoured any living English painter.

Out of Decay. 

Up to a point, Bacon's art, in all its hazard and abiding strangeness, grows out of the terms of his life. Born in Ireland in 1909, a descendant of the great Elizabethan Sir Francis Bacon, he spent a childhood whose ambience was decayed status, country eccentricity and the violence of Irish civil war. When Francis was 17, his father caught him trying on his mother's underwear, and banished him from the house. With no special qualifications or ambition, Bacon drifted his way round Europe—to Berlin and afterward to Paris—and worked as an interior decorator in England in the '30s. Of these formative years, English Critic John Russell, in a new book on Bacon (New York Graphic Society; $16.50), remarks, "Berlin and Paris gave him the notion of a big city as an erotic gymnasium. But there is also, in Bacon's makeup, a paradoxical austerity which he traces directly to his father." It is no accident that so many of Bacon's most compelling images are at root father-figures: the shrieking Pope, the dictator mouthing before the mikes, the worsted-sheathed executive with the expression of a wax shark.

Horror Movie.

Bacon's work is the kind that invites stereotyped reactions. He is seen as a master of crisis, directing a horror movie. The adjective most often given to his work, nightmarish, is not quite true to Bacon's intentions; it does not go far enough. For nightmares, like movies, end. Bacon's images, on the other hand, are thrust at us as the enduring substance of reality. They are not fantasies, but observation slits into a Black Hole of Calcutta, in which man thrashes about, stifled by claustrophobia and frustration, stabbing with penis or knife at the nearest body. This, Bacon insists, is the real world; it defines the suppressed condition of actual life.

Bacon's work is not pessimistic (or optimistic, for that matter), for it lives outside these parentheses on a terrain of amoral candor about the most extreme situations. "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom"—so William Blake, whose mask Bacon once painted. Bacon's career has been a pursuit of this truth, from the transvestite bars of 1920s Berlin to the green baize of Monte Carlo, where he still assuages his passion for gambling. He is the Genet of painting, most particularly in the lavishness with which he uses his own psyche as experimental material.

Bacon's figures, in their blurred, spastic postures, relate to the work of early still photographers like Eadweard Muybridge, or art reproductions, movie stills, news flashes. Personality, existence itself, glints like a fish in dark water and is gone. Bacon is a singular draftsman, but his drawing has practically no descriptive function—it serves, instead, to tally a sum of distortions.

"One of the problems is to paint like Velasquez, but with the texture of hippopotamus skin," he once remarked. And he does. Structure emerges from the tracks of the looping brush as though naturalism were being reinvented. The result is that Bacon's distortions have a unique kind of anatomical conviction. Collectively, they amount to nothing less than a group portrait in which Baconian man—lecherous, wary, perversely heroic—carries on his flesh the cumulative imprint of self-destruction.

 

   

                    FRANCIS BACON     Photo: Alan Clifton

               Through nightmare to discovery.

 

 

 

 

FRANCIS BACON

 

Retrospective at the Grand Palais

 

 

JANET HOBHOUSE ARTS MAGAZINE | FEBRUARY 1972

 

Francis Bacon’s retrospective exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris has been interpreted by some as a diplomatic gesture to Great Britain on the eve of her entry into the Common Market. If so, it is curios that the first major retrospective ever offered by France to a British painter should be given to one who has no disciples and no recent artistic ancestry, to one who in no way acts as a representative of English art. So I felt before seeing what is a very impressive show indeed, and one which places Bacon firmly above his simple reputation as an English eccentric with a disdain for Art History, and as a man of post-war conscience with all the right reactions to the brutalities and humiliations of modern life. Bacon is more complicated and a lot better than that, as this exhibition (his first retrospective since the one held at the Tate in 1962) clearly shows. He has moved firmly away from the sometime sensationalism of his earlier paintings, from manipulative gimmicks (the use of streaming, frenzied lines through portraits, which characterized much of his work in the fifties, for example), and gradually away from what was at times fairly crude symbolism towards less illustrative and more complexly-suggestive subject matter. His painting has developed too, towards a use of cleaner lines and more powerful colors, towards an easiness with vast, abstract backgrounds and looser definitions of space than was evident before.

There is clear enough indication of the development in Bacon’s painting over the last twenty-five years if one compares Painting, 1946 with Second Version of Painting, 1946, done in 1971 (both works are now owned by the Museum of Modern Art in New York). The basic structure, formed by the beef carcass hung head downwards, the split halves moving outwards (the first use of the basic crucifixion form), and under which the shadowed Mussolini-like smiling figure sits, his legs encircled by a steel construction, in the two paintings remain the same. In the first version, however, this basic frame is cluttered by objects which have disappeared in Bacon’s later reworking. Early versions of the owls (used later in the Pope studies) which perch on the steel enclosure, the extra garlanding and patterned carpet which fill the spaces at the top and bottom of the painting, and the miscellaneous lines and arrows all pulling away from the central form, indicate an uneasiness with empty space and a need to disperse the strength of the image in extrinsic clutter. In the second version, not only are these superfluous images gone, leaving greater space and allowing the compact form to test its strength unaided, but that space itself becomes part of the force of the painting. The earlier carpet pattern is exchanged for a solid color, the blurred patchy pink of the first background for a single brilliant yellow which moves with the lines of the beef outside the canvas. Equally, the steel enclosure is now open-ended and there is potential movement where there was earlier only the dark and tight confinement. Lastly, the subject himself alters in a way which indicates, I think, Bacon’s movement away from the image of man as a symbol of oppression or suffering, to that of man as he less symbolically is, potentially good as well as evil, even innocuous, in any case not easily known. In the second version the all-dominating grin is a closed-mouth smile, the eyes are visible and almost easy, the posture is relaxed. The authority figure has yielded to the individual portrait, unthreatening, and good-naturedly drawn. Bacon seems in repainting him thus to have renounced his earlier desire to direct our reaction, to offer judgment, however many misdirections and modifications he might have added to complicate that judgment.

This is certainly the direction in which Bacon’s painting has progressed in the last ten years. He abandoned his Pope series as unsuccessful and his crucifixions as potentially too specific to serve the universal purposes he intended. In their place are individual portraits and triptychs with the more neutral title of Three Studies of the Human Form. But always Bacon’s intention was characteristically to keep away from crude illustration of specific human traits, to preserve as much of the ambiguity of his figures, as their depiction would bare. His work has never deserved the reaction it received from those who saw his paintings as mere tales of horror and suffering, and from the start his work has been sustained by a strong ambivalence to what he depicted. The distorted nudes by the sides of butcher’s carcasses, or lying with hypodermic syringes have, nonetheless, a certain serenity of pose and grace of line that cannot be accidental. Nor is the care of the painting or the delicacy of the color in such pictures to be read, I feel, as a bit of conscious irony or provider of some thrill of incongruity. Rather, I think, Bacon has throughout treated his subjects with the same half-admiration, half-horror that that he later shows in the portraits of his friends.

Head II, 1949, for example, is a very powerful painting, certainly one of Bacon’s best, which uses a horrific subject matter in such a way as to hold the viewer’s attention, while at the same time manipulating a reaction which has little to do with the grim features of the grinning, half-agonized head. It seems to me that this painting is concerned (and typically concerned) with a grapple with the paint, an analysis of texture, shadow, and the sculptural qualities of paint. There is little variation of colour in this gray painting, and almost no clear linesthe position and grin of the head have to be read with effort. Bacon seems to use those minute but clearer objects, an arrow, a safety pin, as foci for for the composition of the painting; they act as limits for the movement of the eye more than does the grinning head. Delineation seems rather concentrated on the paint itself which is thickly applied, cracked and encrusted, evoking far more of the sense of claustrophobia and decay than than the subject presented. It is an early example of the technique Bacon aimed at and achieved in the later portrait heads, “to paint like Velazquez but with the texture of the hippopotamus skin.”

Even when his concerns are less with the paint itself, Bacon’s ability to stands away and admire the image at the same time that h is drawn by horror o paint it. is what, to my mid, saves his paintings from simple conclusions. The studies of lovers, for example, can be read as scenes of rape or murder, or as mere figures in movement, neutrally depicted, as they are in the original sourcesMuybridge’s famous photographs published in 1879 as Main in Motion and the first such studies ever made. Other paintings from this source share the the near-clinical interest of the photographer. In one, two figures balance on a ring, the similar figure crawling, both against a simple, brilliant abstract background, making a pleasant, harmonious scene but for the title, After MuybridgeWoman emptying a bowl of water, and Paralytic Child on all foursBacon’s occasional indifference to the import of such objects in his paintings as bandages, crutches, syringes, has led him to make one or two amazing oversights, as, for example, the Nazi arm-band of the 1965 Crucifixion, which binds that painting to its specific reference and gives the horror depicted a fairly specific name. Bacon, taking the idea of the swastika from a photo, claims no such motive for use. “You will tell me it's absurd ... but I needed the armband to break the continuity of the arm, and I wanted a bit of red around the arm.... It was purely a formal intention.” It is not often, however, that Bacon’s ambivalence to his images leads him so far astray.

Along with this developing interest in the formal aspect of the image, Bacon’s paintings show a new lessening of tension which is apparent as much in the structural as in the use of less symbolic subject-matter. The cage-like constructions which were consistently used in his early work have gradually changed in meaning, becoming looser, larger, until they act as arenas or eventually balancing bars in paintings such as the later Studies of the Human Body. The claustrophobia of the early works is exchanged, first for a sense of precariousness, as in Portrait of George Dyer on a Bicycle eventually for a sense of perfect balance as in the enormous 1970 Triptych, where three people sit serenely in an enormous space, supported by one strong narrow bar. The background color of Bacon’s painting  also lightens allowing a new airiness in his work, very different from those tense dark studies with which he became famous.

Equally, though his subjects sit isolated in these later works, the new suggestion of performance hints at a potential audience which will admire their skills. If one remembers the studies of the fifties and early sixties, with their trapped humans capable of little but destruction, indifference or pain, the new paintings reveal a remarkable optimism.

I like this new Bacon better. Technically, his painting is surer, his lines cleaner and stronger, and his colors freer than earlier. His portraits are far more commanding in their originality than were those brooding early studies. Equally, the scale of his paintings has increased  and with that has come a new freedom of movement and a power which no longer depends upon manipulated emotions. Bacon is as capable as ever of creating anxiety or horror, as he does in probably the best of his triptychs, the 1970 panels inspired by Sweeney Agonistes, but he is capable too, of a great fund of admiration for the human being. This, I think, gives him a far greater power as a painter, to move in a free style, to explore a greater range of emotions, and consequently to elicit a far more complex reaction than was earlier possible.

Concurrently with the Grand Palais exhibition New York Graphic has published the first major book on the artist John Russell, Francis Bacon, 87 bl. and wh. and 74 color plates.

 

 

 

  Francis Bacon’s European retrospective

 

 

     ANDREW CAUSEY | ART | THE ILLUSTRATED LONDON NEWS | TUESDAY 1 FEBRUARY, 1972

 

The present retrospective exhibition of paintings by Francis Bacon, which is shortly to move from the Grand Palais in Paris to the Kunsthalle in Dusseldorf, marks one of the rare successes of British painters in capturing the attention of a European public. Three floors of the Grand Palais were given over to the works by Bacon since 1944 borrowed from collections in Europe and the United States. A slight emphasis in the selection towards paintings done in the nine years since Bacon’s retrospective at the Tate in 1962 shows that much of the artist’s best work is recent, and in particular that he has greatly extended his scope as a colourist.

Bacon is now 63; the way he continues to probe the possibilities of his chosen subject matter and produce fresh results conveys the feeling of a man still very much tied up with his work, for whom the original suppositions connected with his dominant theme of people in rooms has become neither meaningless nor just a convention.

Bacon was originally an interior designer, a successful exponent of the modernist mode of around 1930. The furniture in some of his later paintings has occasionally seemed to refer back to his first work, but there is no serious connexion between his design work and his painting apart from the fact of his technical expertise as a painter. This is more than just a knowledge of the way colours work; it extends, for instance, in Dog of 1952, to his building up the image of the dog from a mixture of sand and paint, so the animal stands out as a palpable thing against the rest of canvas on which the paint is drily and sparingly used.

Bacon’s earliest painting, reminiscent of Picasso and lesser Surrealist painters like Lurgat, has mostly been destroyed, and what remains has not been included in the exhibition. The earliest pictures in the show are the Tate’s Three studies for figures at the base of a Crucifixion, strident images of three greatly distorted females, connected by Bacon with the Furies. He has frequently returned to the theme of the Crucifixion, referring to it either obliquely, as here, through attendant figures, or, painting it in modern dress, as in the magnificent Three Studies for a Crucifixion of 1962, in which the right hand study is directly based on the representation of the Crucifixion by the Sienese painter Cimabue, but in Bacon’s case is only just recognizable as a figure at all. Bacon is not a Christian, but is interested in the Crucifixion as a symbol of suffering, and in particular, one suspects, in the idea of atonement or suffering on behalf of others. It is difficult to be specific. During the 1950 s Bacon did a large number of paintings of men confined within cage-like structures. Some were Popes, derived from a reproduction of Velazquez’s portrait of Innocent X, some were friends, and others were anonymous business executives. Some are tormented, others seem quite pleased with themselves. The sense is there that the bars are restrictive, but the internees are perhaps not always aware of it. Suffering in Bacon’s painting is real only on the broadest level, it is almost synonymous with living.

It is easier now than it was at the time of the 1962 Tate exhibition, before so many of the richly coloured works of the 1960 s had been painted, to understand the limited scope of the 50s portraits. Though Bacon can reasonably be considered a traditionalist in the sense that his painting is about the placing of things in space, a fundamental which it shares with the whole Renaissance tradition of art, the best of his painting works “Two studies for a self-portrait”, oil on canvas, 1970. through colour—open areas of colour carried within brush strokes—and not through line. In the early pictures like the Tate’s Three studies for figures at the base of a Crucifixion the importance of colour is already manifest. The bright orange background against which the figures are seen is abstract and non-realistic in the same way as the gold backgrounds to medieval religious pictures are abstract. It is not a flat pure colour, as it appears at first glance in a reproduction, but richly textured and carefully modulated. The same is true of the even more daring coloured backgrounds of the big triptychs of the 19605. In the recent pictures some completely new colours appear, like the cold blue of Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne standing in a Soho street. (1967) and the blue of the shadows in Triptych (1970), but they have the same vibrancy as the orange background in 1944.

In the late pictures the network of bars that surrounded the figures in the 1950 s become rare (the Isabel Rawsthorne picture is an exception), with the result that figures relate more openly to their surroundings.

 

 

 

Painted pastiche marks gallery’s art arrangement

 

 

JEFFREY WECHSLER | SPECTRUM ARTS EDITOR | THE SPECTRUM | FRIDAY, 20 JULY 1973

 

Probably the most obvious reflection of curatorial concerns in any museum to either the casual or expert viewer, is the methodology or organizing and displacing the collection—in other words, how and where the paintings are hung and the sculpture positioned. In this article, I shall discuss this methodology as practiced in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, referring to the visible evidence of the current set-up in the gallery.

Let it be known at the start that I believe there are gross errors of judgement in many display situations. Encumbent upon me now is the burden of proof, which I am prepared to give—in quantity.

Cruelty to animals

In the view of this room illustrated here, one sees two animal sculptures by Anne Arnold, and paintings by Dubuffet, Sutherland, and Francis Bacon. Why is the Francis Bacon there? Simple! It contains the image of a dog, and the curator seems to think that goes just fine next to Anne Arnold’s cat. Although the Albright-Knox’s example of this painter’s work is a weak one, the fact that Bacon’s art is a horrifying view into the tortured open wound of modem’s man’s psyche is never considered. Another artist is insulted. 

Editor’s note: This is the first of a series of articles expressing an opinion on various segments of the workings of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

 

 

    

                                           Francis Bacon, Man with Dog, 1953

 

 

 

Francis Bacon‘I Wanted to Paint the Scream’

 

 

By ANTHONY BAILEY | THE NEW YORK TIMES | MARCH 16, 1975   

 

     

                 Francis Bacon in the London studio he calls a "disaster"

 

 

LONDON Once, gambling at Monte Carlo, where he lived for a time, the English painter Francis Bacon had a winning streak. He was spending days and nights at the roulette tables and It got to the almost mystical point where he believed he heard the croupier call out the winning number before the ball fell into the socket. One afternoon he won nearly $4,000. He rented a villa, stocked it with food, wine and friends, and had a marvellous 10 days. Nowadays he is less lucky as a gambler, but his fame as a painter in part makes up for it. On Wednesday the Metropolitan Museum of Art opens a three month show of his work—paintings mostly done since his exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1971, Bacon, however, remains intensely interested in chance; not only in what makes for a gambling win or fame, but in the fortune that smiles (or grins a death-head grin) when his oil paints and his obsessions are embroiled upon a canvas.

Bacon is 65 and looks about 50. He has close-cropped grey hair, a trim physique, and a pear-shaped face that seems assembled of disparate elements: the forehead belonging to an ascetic thinker, the eyes to a tragic actor, the cheeks to a plump cherub. It is a face he himself has painted in numerous self-portraits and his friend Lucien Freud has brilliantly caught in the portrait now in the Tate Gallery.

Bacon is also a remarkably candid and articulate talker — whether about the difficulties of painting or the difficulty of being Francis Bacon: Asthmatic, homosexual, gripped not only by the imagination of disaster but by the despair that springs from the death of people he's known best  two brothers dying young, suicides of close friends. He was born in Dublin in 1909. His father, ex-British Army, trained race horses. But  he didn't get on with his father, and  the proximity of the horses and dogs brought on violent asthma. His education was mostly from tutors at home. He ran away from boarding school after one term. But having come late to reading, he has been deep in books ever since, and one suspects that few living painters could speak with equal understanding about Valéry and Yates, Aeschylus and Pascal. During his childhood Bacon's family moved back and forth between England and Ireland and he made an early acquaintance with violence: cavalry in the driveway, sandbags around the house. The dislocated childhood soon led to a nomadic life. He left home at 16, his father furious with him for trying on his mother's underwear.  He has lived since then in London, Berlin, Paris and Tangiers, mostly now in one of three homes: a Paris apartment, a riverside flat in London's dockland, and a mews studio in South Kensington.

He has no art school training and no private income but he has always had the gift, necessary for artists, of “getting-by.” After various odd jobs and a fling at designing (some of his abstract rugs and tubular furniture received good notices”), he became friends With the Australian painter Roy de Maistre, who taught him something of the craft. But his first solo show in 1934 was a complete flop. For the next 10 years he painted little. Then came the war. Turned down by the army, he served as an air-raid warden and perhaps had a chance to boil down the experience of books, art and life he had assimilated. He began to paint in earnest. A 1944 Triptych—three figures art the base of a crucifixion—was exhibited a year later along with works by Henry Moore, Matthew Smith and Graham Sutherland and produced a shock-wave, partly of horror at the creatures in it, partly of admiration for his stunning painterly skill—which his work continues to create to this day.

When living at his studio, in a narrow mews where little garages cosset chic sports cars. Bacon gets up with the light and paints till the early afternoon. Several shabby rooms are reached up a steep staircase, walls and ceiling a basic dirty gray, no floor coverings, a cheap electric fire, clothes hanging in plastic bags. Bacon calls the sky-lit room in which he paints a disaster: the floor shin-deep in a compost of notebooks, paper, newspapers, photographs, books, cardboard, paint tubes, rags, brushes tin jars, and canvases rising out of this, propped against the walls. On the walls, blobs of violent colour, thrown or brushed out, and photographs of some of his paintings.

In London after work he goes out to gamble and drink, to rub elbows with people he knows or doesn't know in the fancier Soho pubs, living, he says, “a gilded gutter life.”

In the compost heap from which his pictures have emerged, Bacon identifies various things. Photographs are immensely important to him as triggers of ideas. Bacon, no photographer, uses photographs in an attempt to make a better record of reality by distorting it: deepening it, and (his word) “thickening” it. He has countless photographs, clipped from magazines and newspapers; photos of himself taken in automatic booths; many photos of the Velasquez Pope Innocent X. He prefers working from photographs when making portraits of his friends—less inhibiting than the actual presence. He has made great use of the 19th-century photographer Muybridge's studies of the human figure in motion. The shot, from Eisenstein's film “Potemkin,” of the child's nanny screaming, lurks together with a screaming figure from Poussin's “Massacre of the Innocents” behind the open mouths of many of Bacon's creatures—whether seated in what might be electric chairs or crouched on the way to a slaughterhouse.

His own feeling about abstract art is that it exists on a single aesthetic level, and though sometimes conveying “very watered down lyrical feeling,” cannot convey feeling of the deepest and grandest kind. He thinks we live in primitive times again, up against futility and the absurd, having to play the game without faith or reason. In these conditions, Bacon's attempt to “deepen the game” art now seems to be, has meant painting the human figure, generally alone, sometimes isolated in lonely coupling with another, and through this getting down his own nervous feelings about humanity as precisely as possible. The problem for him is how to make a reality which is more than just an illustration of an idea. His solution involves doing violence to the idea—at once strangling it and shaking it loose.

He doesn't sketch out his pictures first. He paints directly on the canvas, sometimes using frames or rings that concentrate the image for him, sometimes hurling paint at the canvas and manipulating the accidental marks, scrubbing with cloth or brush, attempting to disrupt the part of the painting that comes too easily. He is admired by fellow artists for his skill with oil paints, whose mysteries and fluidity he enjoys—“like the way sometimes pressing a brush an old colour comes from deep in the bristles, just right.” In 1953 he wrote in a tribute to the British painter Matthew Smith, “Painting in this sense tends towards a complete interlocking of image and paint, so that the image is the paint and vice versa. Here the brush stroke creates the form and does not merely fill it in. Consequently, every movement of the brush on the canvas alters the shape and implications of the image. That is why real painting is a mysterious and continuous struggle with chance.”

It is a struggle he doesn't always win. Sometimes he goes on too far, so that a picture is lost, irrevocably. It tends to be the potentially better pictures that go on and get lost that way. And though he needs to put himself and the picture at risk, so that chance can work for him, the result mustn't look chance-ridden. His own rigorous judgment is matched by a feeling that most people don't like his pictures; that, in fact, most critics loathe them. In any event, apart from these pictures lost in the making he has destroyed a good deal of his earlier work. He says, “There are far too many of them left around.” He might have destroyed more if it hadn't been for the need to make a living, and his feeling that a few of his pictures might help “to thicken life,” as great art does.

At this paint Bacon is tired of the butcher-shop image his work almost inevitably prompts. But in a newly published series of interviews with David Sylvester ho says, “We are meat—we are potential carcasses.” Moreover, “There is great beauty for a painter in the colour of meat.” Although a nonbeliever, he has been drawn to the Crucifixion as an “armature” on which to hang his feelings about the way man can act toward man. He hasn't tried to be horrific.

“I wanted to paint the scream more than the horror,” he told Sylvester. But he has tried to remake the violence of reality to “clear away the screens so that one can see the violence suggested within the image.” And it is then typical that he wants to put the completed picture behind glass. This is perhaps the most indoor art Europe has produced—the light electric, the air thin; painful, claustrophobic juxtapositions. Late in a long era that has witnessed Annunciations and Virgin births come these solitary confinements.

Bacon regrets not knowing classical Greek. He remains exhilarated by three things: “When a painting, however despairing, seems to come right. When I meet someone I get on well with. And when I have a marvellous win.”

 

 

 

 

Art of a New Francis Bacon Is at Met

 

 

By JOHN RUSSELL | THE NEW YORK TIMES | MARCH 20, 1975

 

 

Very few people know how to grieve. Music can do it for us; and so can art. For centuries the Descent from the Cross did duty for that moment at which we face one of what W. B. Yeats called “the great irremediable things”: the loss of love.

But when we search for a secular equivalent in art we can search and search again. One of the many astonishments of “Francis Bacon: Recent Paintings 1968–1974,” which opened at the Metropolitan Museum and will be there through June 29, is that he has faced the loss of love and come to terms with it.

This is not the kind of ambition that people associate with Bacon. When he was first widely talked about, around 25 years ago, it was most often in terms of his contemporaneity. People grabbed at what they took to be sensational, irrational, “unnatural” subject matter; and they stayed with it.

When looking at Bacon's work at that time, people cross-referred to the news from Belsen and elsewhere and, more particularly, to the “literature of extreme situation,” which was then much talked about. In this context he was the man who knew the truth about human nature and did not edit or repress it. That was the general idea, and it was perfectly true; much of what he did at that time has become part of the general currency of the imagination.

But when the first major retrospective of Bacon's paintings was held in London, the most impressive thing about them was not so much their relevance to recent times as an august and distanced quality. What struck home was the beauty and distinction of the utterance—and the absoluteness of the ambition. Only one thing would do for Bacon: that the dead tradition of European figure-painting should be brought back to life.

He did it then; and he is still doing it, in basically the same way. He begins with strange and disquieting subject matter. Now, as then, people in paintings have never looked quite that way or done quite those things. Bacon is still unlocking the valves of feeling in such a way that the whole of our past experience comes up for reclassification.

In this, he is faithful to a maxim of Yeats: that “no mind can engender till divided into two.” “The nobleness of the arts,” Yeats also said, “is in the mingling of contraries”: without such a mingling, the “great irremediable things” would be all powerful.

The greatest and the least remediable of those things is the loss of love. In addressing himself to this, Bacon challenges a taboo that on the one hand has saved us from a lot of bad art and on the other has much impoverished art's claims upon us. Taboos are there to be challenged; and Bacon has tackled this one both with violence and with an unstressed elegiac poetry, as in the “Portrait of a Man Walking Down Steps” (1972), which may remind us that the artist in this century whom Bacon most admires is Marcel Duchamp.

In Bacon's new painting there Is a complex mingling of contraries. They include, in order (“We have to battle for order,” he lately said) and disorder; accident and design; science and instinct; dignity and indignity; waking and the dream. Bacon today can do what he likes with paint. He can make the naked human body gleam and glow; he can make a doorknob or an unshaded light bulb into an object of wonder; and he can paint the human eye in such a way that we reconsider the whole relationship of watcher and watched.

He could always fold space, and even knead space, in ways peculiar to himself. But when the “great irremediable things” are faced head-on in the new paintings he settles for a grave ordering of the given space; spare verticals and strict horizontals offset the turbulent poetry of the human images.

That poetry is always rooted in fact. No matter how fragmented the figures or how extreme the distortion, those who have known them will recognize the sudden hunch of the shoulders with which Lucian Freud will pounce upon a new topic; the strange, burrowing, sideway motion with which George Dyer walked; or the way in which Bacon himself will sit sideways on an old cane chair with sleeves rolled up above the elbow and the compass needle of his attention flickering wildly to and fro.

All this comes second, one may say, to the beauty of the paint, which grows more startling year by year. But that beauty is not gratuitous. It is the servant of impulse, not the master; and nothing quite like it has been seen before.

In terms of text, the catalogue at $5.95 has much to offer, but it has to be said that the paintings in reproduction are sadly travestied.

 

 

 

 

Francis Bacon: A Kind of Grandeur

 

 

This week a major Francis Bacon exhibition opens at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Yorkthe first time a living British artist has been on show there.

Here Bacon discusses his attitudes with David Sylvester in an extract from Interviews with Francis Bacon, published tomorrow by Thames & Hudson.

On page 30 David Sylvester explores the relationship between what Bacon says and what he does

 

 

DAVID SYLVESTER | THE SUNDAY TIMES MAGAZINE | MARCH 23, 1975

 

 David Sylvester comments:

“After all, as existence in a way is so banal, you may as well try and make a kind of grandeur of it rather than be nursed to oblivion.” Bacon's reason for despising our concern with security is that it is “the opposite of the despair about life”. And he judges a society by the art it creates, clearly because art is one activity that may make “a kind of grandeur” out of existence. The one faith he seems to own is an unfashionable faith in the power of art, in art's capacity to justify—one might even say, to redeem—human existence and the pain of its brevity.

Such a commitment to art, so strongly and widely held a century ago, has increasingly lost ground through attacks from two positions. It has been attacked from the standpoint of social egalitarianismnot least by Tolstoy—in a puritanical response to the uncomfortable fact that high art is not easily enjoyable by everybody. And it has been attacked from anti-art standpoints within the artistic avant garde—from the Dadaists to the Conceptualists—in a puritanical response to the uncomfortable fact that art gets dirtied by being used as a means of showing off—by practitioners to show off their virtuosity and/or good taste, by consumers to show off their privileges and/or good taste.

And Bacon's faith in art, because it is that of a deeply sophisticated man who is very much a man of his time, is radically qualified by anti-art feelings. He may constantly talk in praise of Rembrandt, Velasquez and Michelangelo, but he also does so of Marcel Duchamp, the great prophet of anti-art.

One of the lines of inquiry pursued by Duchamp in his search to create art that was not respectable was to encourage chance to operate in the formation of a work. And with Bacon the role of chance becomes absolutely central. This emerges from the interview (made in 1974) partly reproduced above, and the theme of chance is the theme that is most reiterated throughout Interview with Francis Bacon. When he says in one of them, “I want a very ordered image but I want it to come about by chance,” he is summing up the dialectic that is possibly the mainspring of his work. It is summed up again, perhaps unwittingly, when, in the middle of describing himself as an essentially traditional painter, unconcerned with creating new techniques, he suddenly says that his ideal “would really be just to pick up a handful of paint and throw it at the canvas and hope that the portrait was there”.

Dependence on chance is Bacon's particular way, a way suited to a gambler's temperament, of trying to deal with the most exciting and exacting problem that painting offers, and one that most contemporary painters avoid. “To me, the mystery of painting today is how can appearance be made. I know it can be illustrated, I know it can be photographed. But how can this thing be made so that you can catch the mystery of appearance within the mystery of the making?”

“I know it can be photographed.” There's the rub. Bacon says he has “always been haunted” by photographs in the sense that he is fascinated by looking at them and working from them “99 per cent of the time” finds them “very much more interesting than either abstract or figurative painting”. But he is also haunted by photography in that its very existence has profoundly altered the purpose of painting and made it more difficult.

“I think it is more difficult because painters had a double role before. I think that they thought that they were recording, and then they did something very much more than recording.” But now, he goes on, mechanical methods of recording have cancelled out that side of the painter's role. “And I think that abstract painters, realising this, have thought: why not throw out all illustration and all forms of recording and just give the effects of form and colour? And logically this is quite right. But it hasn't worked out ...” The failure, he says, has been that abstract art only works on one level, an aesthetic level, that the only feelings it manages to convey are “very watered-down lyrical feelings” which lack the tension and discipline that can result from the artist's struggle to deal simultaneously with feelings and fact. So abstraction is insufficient and more-or-less literal representation is redundant and the only kind of painting that is really worth attempting is something very “extreme” which violently distorts reality as we think of it in forming an image beyond reason which acts inexplicably upon the nervous system to create a heightened sense of reality.

It is a kind of painting which operates on the age of the absurd (as ambitious art often does, in one way or another). The head in one of the most powerful and beautiful of the recent paintings, the Sleeping Figure, reproduced on page 24, is decidedly reminiscent of the head of a Lying Figure of 1959, reproduced in colour in page 121 of the monograph by Rothenstein and Alley: un the one, that head seems profoundly poignant and real, in the other, a grotesque caricature. And the difference between the triumph and the disaster is hardly evident in a comparison of reproductions, since it all lies in the way the paint functions, in the one case imbuing the image with life and mystery so that the deformations go unquestioned, seem rightbecause, if the image seems alive, it inevitably seems realand in the other case not giving the vibrancy or density to the image, which therefore seems arbitrary and pointlessly ugly.

That 1959 painting belongs to the key transitional period in Bacon's development. It was a time when, as I put it in the interview above, he “got rid of the curtains”. For ten years he had been painting images with rather soft edges, often against a muffled background of curtains, using a limited range of colours dominated by flesh-tones, greys and deep dark blues. They are paintings which look like beaten-up Old Masters, rich in romantic atmosphere and shadowy suggestions of momentous forms (“adumbrations” was a word often used when critics described them). But then, about 1957, he started to broaden and lighten his palette and to delineate the forms more precisely, while at the same time tending to scramble and mangle them more than ever within that clearer outline. About 1959-60 he proceeded to heighten this blatant contradiction by starting to make the backgrounds perfectly flat and hard and often harshly bright in colour. In the interview above I said that in doing this he had “confronted an immense and extraordinary kind of difficulty” which no other paint had “tried to resolve”. Had I not been concerned to be polite, I might have said it was an enterprise like designing a Gothic spire to put on the Parthenon.

At Bacon's big retrospective in Paris in 1971, it seemed to me that the dark paintings of the early and middle 'Fifties were far more consistent in quality than the later works. These seemed wildly uneven, but the best of them had an intensity and resonance which made the earlier works seem hints and guesses. And their strengths may well have derived precisely from the way in which their inner contradictions had come to be, incredibly, resolved. In the interview, Bacon gives this reason for the contradictions: “I would like the intimacy of the image against a very stark background. I want to isolate the image and take it away form the interior and the home.” It is one of those statements of an artist's aims which unwittingly reveal the essence of the man. In being that, it is a demonstration of the way in which the extremes to to which Bacon pushes himself are dictated by a supremely precise awareness of his inner needs and a superb courage in following his instincts wherever they lead him. By the same token, he has grown into greatness as a painter largely through being unwilling to settle for less.

'Interviews with Francis Bacon' is published tomorrow by Thames & Hudson at £2.50.

 

    

 

 

 

Swatches of Bacon

 

 

DOUGLAS DAVIS | ART | NEWSWEEK | MARCH 31, 1975

 

 

The ugliest of the 36 intentionally ugly paintings by the English artist Francis Bacon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York depicts a nude man sitting–in three panels–in his bathroom. In the last panel he retches violently into the basin, producing a garish stream of of black and blood-red oil paint. But laced across his head and shoulders is a thin swipe of white paint, like a delicate and incongruously abstract mark. Not long ago, Bacon commented revealingly on this tiny white smear: "I did that at the very last minute," he said, "and I just left it. For me it looked right."

This admission–backed up by the evidence in nearly all of these new paintings, which are filled with cranky smears of paint–makes it difficult to continue celebrating Bacon, now 65, as the last great traditional figure painter, as he has come to be known. Born in Dublin, the son of an English horse trainer, Bacon rocketed  from relative obscurity in middle age to become the most famous British painter of his time. Four years ago, in a global poll of the world's curators and museum directors, he was selected as the world's finest living artist.  He is regularly celebrated in magazines  as the only modern artist able to deal with the great timeless themes of despair, decay and death. The Metropolitan exhibition alone is a signal honor–since the museum rarely offers its space to living painters.

Moreover, the Metropolitan–through Henry Geldzahler, its curator of 20th century-art–has chosen to focus upon the work of Bacon since 1968, not the valid early works that captured the world's imagination. There were searing replays of images and motifs locked into past art, particularly a grotesque, screaming Pope in the manner of Velázquez, a favorite of Bacon's.

But in his new works, Bacon is operating almost completely in the present tense, with a decided loss of power. He is clearly taken not only with the free-wheeling methods associated with abstract expressionism and surrealism (Bacon regularly throws packed packed balls of pigment on the canvas) but with the repetition and distortion of imagery that occurs in news photography–the Metropolitan exhibition includes many "diptychs" and "triptychs" (traditional art names for "serial" paintings done done in twos and threes). His "Bullfight" series (opposite) takes the same image through two slightly altered versions. His 1969 "Self-Portrait" is one of endless variations on his own face (often presented in rows of three). The seated "Study" of his friend George Dyer is part of a long series, as are the small portraits of Dyer and Isabel Rawsthorne.

Parade: Seen in isolation, these images can momentarily grip and even shock the eye. Seen together–and in company with other endlessly elaborated and triptyched themes–Bacon's art loses its celebrated vulgarity. It becomes instead a parade of predictable images, mottled and distorted in predictable ways. His studio in London is filled, he tells us, with piles of old photographs and clippings. This appears to be the real influence on Bacon now, not the great painters of the past: in his obsession with repetition he is closer to Eadweard Muybridg, the inventor of serial-action photography, than to Velázquez.

"I'm just trying to make images off my nervous system," he once said. In his new art, Bacon has let the deep recesses of terror and anguish for the pleasures of pure painting–the very sin he has often attributed to abstract art.  The best part of the Met exhibition is the sure painterly hand at work, seen in the marvelous multi-hued swatches of pigment that swipe across the faces of Bacon's subjects, the radiant orange backgrounds, the clean, formal compositions. His subjects are as ugly as ever; his means are not. The guardian of the past has deserted to the delights of painting in the twentieth century.

 

    

                    Francis Bacon: 'Second Version of 'Study for Bullfight No. 1' ' (1969)

 

 

 

 

BaconBlack’ Triptychs

 

 

BY HUGH M. DAVIES | ART IN AMERICA | MARCH-APRIL 1975 

 

 

Despite his many one-man shows, widely spaced in time but altogether memorable, and an impressive retrospective exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in 1963, Francis Bacon—recognized by many as the most powerfully original artist of his generation in Europe—is surprisingly not as well known or appreciated in the U.S. as he deserves to be. However, this situation may be corrected when an exhibition of Bacon's work of the last six years opens this month at New York's Metropolitan Museum. In the meantime, relative ignorance of recent developments in his work only deepens the mystery and attraction of the man and artist who electrified New York's avant-garde audience in the early 1950s with his nightmarish repertory of images of screaming popes rendered in a sumptuous and accompanied style that consciously rivaled the old masters. The myths about Bacon have multiplied with his inaccessibility to all but a small circle of London friends. Rumors of lavish expenditures on futile gambling expeditions to casinos on the Riviera and most recently the appearance of his paintings during the credits to the movie Last Tango in Paris have fueled thee myths.

Between August 1972 and June 1973, Bacon painted three great triptychs, which have come to be known as the "black" triptychs. (It was during this period that I was able to see the artist repeatedly in London.)

It is not hard to guess that Bacon is a complicated man, Yet I was surprised, upon first acquaintance, to be introduced to a charming Englishman with a wry wit and Shakespearian delivery. Looking far younger than his 65 years, Bacon has a lively open manner and a captivating, expressive face. He paints almost every day in his London studio from ten or earlier in the morning until daylight fades and then usually takes a taxi to Soho for the evening. Descending from the cab at Dean Street, with the sleeves of his leather trenchcoat rolled up over his elbows, he scales the stairs to Miss Muriel Belcher's Colony Club with the alacrity of a soldier on five-hour furlough. Upon entering, he pays affectionate respect to his old friend and portrait subject Miss Belcher, while Dan Boardman opens the first of several bottles of champagne to be shared with fellow club members. During the course of such a typical evening, Bacon would probably invite whomever happened to be talking with to join him for dinner at Wheeler's around the corner and from there continue to carouse from club to club until the early hours of the morning.

Although he exercises a highly refined taste for the best in wine and food, Bacon's formal wardrobe is limited to a pair of well-made gray suits, and he lives very simply in an unpretentious three-room apartment above a garage in a narrow mews in South Kensington. At the head of the steep entrance staircase is a primitive kitchen housing a sink and a bathtub. Upon entering the rugless bed-sitting room to the right of the kitchen-bathroom, one is confronted by a large floor-to-ceiling mirror reminiscent in its network of cracks of Duchamp's Large Glass. (Bacon explains that the delicately traceried damage resulted from a belligerently hurled ashtray that narrowly missed his head.) No paintings hang on the walls, but a Sickert lies on a couch, and several framed photographs and a life mask of William Blake sit on a shelf, while a Richard Hamilton print rests on a bureau surrounded by piles of photographs and books. His living quarters have the comfortably disorganised, lived-in look of a residence for which the owner has never had the energy or inclination to acquire carpets or proper bookshelves. The bare lightbulbs hanging next to pull-string switches, the heavy dark-green draperies, the simple bentwood chairs and his round-cornered bed all appear in certain of Bacon's paintings of the last 20 years. As he says, "I use things around me."

The studio, which runs parallel to the bed-sitting room on the opposite side of the entrance staircase, is a small windowless space cluttered by an accumulation of discarded paint tubes, brushes, magazines and rages. The only sources of light are a tapering shaft leading to a square skylight and two naked lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling. A multitude of utensils, from Brillo pads to cashmere sweaters, which have been employed to push paint around, rests among the debris. Bacon frequently uses paint-tube caps to make circles for nipples, and I was amused to learn that a garbage-can lid recently served as the pattern for three large circles surrounding reclining figures. Stretched canvases of two sizes, 14 by 12 inches and 78 by 58 inches, are staked against the studio walls; they are stretched with their unprimed sides outwardBacon prefers to paint on this more absorbent surface. His medium is essentially oil; yet at times, to achieve a desired effect or colour, he has used both acrylics and pastel, sometimes in combination with oils. The smaller canvases are reserved for portrait heads, isolated studies of friends floated on monochrome-stained backgrounds. The size of these heads corresponds to the heads of the full-length  figures in the large panels; no adjustment in scale occurs between the two pictorial formats. The large panels are used singly and also in diptych and triptych combinations, each panel always framed separately.

By nature as well as avocation Bacon is a gambler. His ability to take a risk and win his wager, whether it be with life or art history, is part of his genius. John Russell (in his book Francis Bacon) has characterized his approach to painting as shooting for "the National Gallery or the dust-bin." The risk he takes in his large triptychs is dictated by the goal he sets himself: to achieve the freshness, the instinctive spontaneity of a small sketch without sacrificing any of the formal grandeur inherent in a well-composed large painting. To do this, he works directly on the full-size canvas,  without benefit of preliminary drawings. In bypassing the step of adjusting scale, he eliminates the laboured planning and cautious execution that result in diminished vitality in many large paintings. Once a background has been summarily blocked in, the figure or figures are fully painted in a rash of semi-controlled marks. If the result is worth preserving, more background is then added around the finished figure. When unsuccessful, the canvas is destroyed in the way other painters tear up their sketches.

"I often daydream, and images drop in hundreds at a time; some link up with another. I like the triptych format—it breaks the series up and prevents it having a story. That's why the three panels are always framed separately." The triptychs are basically of two kinds. There are, first, portraits, such as Three Studies of Lucian Freud, 1969, in which Bacon represents the artist, a close friend, in three characteristic seated poses. The second type, for lack of a more specific term, might be referred to as "idea" triptychs. These, for which Triptych—Studies of the Human Body, 1970, may be taken as an example, relate to Bacon's "daydreaming" and are the conjugation of several ideas, both literary and visual, that obsessed the artist at the time of painting.

In TriptychStudies of the Human Body, the central panel represents two men wrestling on a round elevated platform or bed. This image, which has recurred in Bacon's oeuvre ever since his 1953 painting of two men on a bed titled Two Figures, is based on a well-known photograph by Eadwaed Muybridge, the 19th-century inventor of motion photography. Muybridge's (supposedly) detached, scientific study of two wrestlers is given an emotional, pyschosexual dimension by Bacon, who transfers the action from a wrestling mat to a bed. Moving to the triptych's side panels bracketing the central embracing couple, we see on the right a figure in a doorway who bears a marked resemblance to Bacon and operates an antique, aggressive-looking movie camera. This thinly veiled allusion to Bacon's conception of his role as artist/objective recorder/voyeur, a modern Muybridge of motion and emotion, is a 20th-century equivalent of Velázquez' self-portrait in a similar role in La Meninas. In the left panel a second man observes the central struggle from a similar doorway. (John Russell points out this man's likeness to George Dyer, Bacon's dead friend). The two doorways do not, as one might expect, open onto three-dimentonal space; rather, they appear they appear to be pairs of hinged mirrors that, when open, reflect figures standing beyond the picture plane in the spectator's space.

The triptych is further complicated by the remaining elements in the side panels—a vaguely figurative brown blur that overlaps a newspaper in the right panel, and an ambiguous figure or figures on the left. Bacon particularly lies this undefined grouping in the left panel; he feels it is a "fortunate accident"—a product of chance rather than a contrived image. In attempting to account for its origin, he explained to me that the short arms above the central leg came from a photograph of a bird of prey, talons outstretched at the moment before striking its victim. But here ambiguity supplanted rationality and their explanation broke down: "... it could be two people embracing—I don't know why it was necessary to pin down the shadow below them" (here pointing to a white impasto spike-shape at the lower left of the panel). "It takes me back to things that come out of Aeschylus and things like that, a sort of tragic form. I don't know why, but I like it."

Some knowledge of Bacon's earlier life helps in attempting to understand the raw nature of his art. He was born in Dublin before the first world war, and his early memories are of cavalry-troop maneuvres in the woods around his parents'  house. Following on the heels of the war, the Irish Civil War and Sinn Fein brought organized violence to his doorstop. As he was of English parentage, Bacon was vey much aware, as a child, that to the Irish he as the enemy.

Having unsuccessfully attended the boarding school at Dean Close, Cheltenham, England, for less than a year, Bacon left home to work in London at the age of 16. The following year, 1926, he traveled to Germany and lived for several months in savage postwar Berlin. "My whole life," Bacon says, "had been lived through a time of stress and then World War II. Anyone who lived through the world wars was affected by them, they affected one's whole psyche to that extent, to live continuously under an atmosphere of tension and threat." This lifelong firsthand experience of what post-World War II Existentialist writers were to label an "extreme situation" is a prime ingredient in Bacon's art, an art that is essentially autobiographical: "The everyday wash of life flows into one's whole imagery, and that mingled with instinct and chance brings up images. I use the whole of my experience and I know this all goes into the work, not consciously, but it goes into all the imagery."

Bacon's paintings of the last 20 years are exclusively figurative and over the past five years have been predominantly portraits. His intention has never been to make pejorative statements about the human condition; he considers that he restricts himself to recording and documentation. Yet his art is not the cold visual record of the detached observer but the vivid presentation of the involved voyeur. It is with these qualities in mind that Bacon calls his work realism and allies himself with artists of the 17th century. Velázquez, whose portrait of Pope Innocent X serves as the model for Bacon's Papal variations of the 50s, he still regards as the greatest painter. Bacon now considers his own versions of the Pope to be "cheap imitations2 and thinks Las Meninas is Velázquez's finest painting. Considering that Velázquez, is almost universally considered a quintessential realist, it is curious that Bacon sees the power of Las Meninas as the result of distortion: "I think Velázquez was very extraordinary because if you analyze the heads of his subjects you will see these are profound distortions, but they are distortions which distort themselves into fact."

Bacon brings to his own portraits a 20th-century complexity. The pre-Freudian concept of the monolithic personality is supplanted by an intimate, candid-camera glimpse behind the well-ordered exterior. The spontaneity of the snapshot is wedded to the self-scrutinizing insight of the late Rembrandt self-portraits, where, in Bacon's words, "he changes himself from day to day, and instinct is working strongly with the desire for appearance." This is the same kind of realist motivation (portraiture of the unrehearsed face) that characterized Bacon's Papal variations but without the theatrical excesses and art-historical allusions that now seem to weigh so heavily in those works.

Bacon never paints directly from the model. He portrays only friends whom he has known for a long time so that  he is very well acquainted with their physiognomy and personality. These friends, as he presents them, , might be considered latter-day souls in torment, femmes damnées et hommes fatales. Yet like their Baudelarian counterparts, they differ from the rest of us only in being conscious of their damned condition. Bacon uses photographs of these subjects like cue cards, to trigger his memory in attempting to trap the fact of their appearance within the context of his dramatically distorted images. This distortion takes the form of individually abstract passages of daubed, smeared and blurred pigment. In attempting to explain  its function, Bacon quotes van Gogh: 2I want to lie, but to lie in such a way that it is more truthful ... " Yet in his own comments about Les Meninas are more specific: "I think if you want to convey fact, this can only ever be done through a form of distortion You must distort to transform what is called appearance into image."

In light of his espoused preference for the instinctual, undomesticated image on a grand scale, one might expect Bacon to be drawn toward Abstract Expressionism, yet nothing could be further from his taste: "I don't believe in abstract art because you must have a starting point in reality, otherwise you just get free fantasy,  so-called freewheeling of beauty. You need some subject. "Bacon  thinks Jackson Pollock's paintings now "look like old lace" and that "it had all been done in German Expressionism before." He sets himself what he sees as a more demanding task: "Starting from an image, I want to be formal and vivid, and yet to be vivid they have to be by chance. If I throw a lump of paint on the floor, it has vitality but no control. Pollock is not formal enough for me."

This formal side of Bacon's artistic personality is further revealed in a decided penchant for the well-made and a preference for polished presentation. He likes, for example, the immaculately finished sculptures of Arp and Brancusi. His own paintings invariably arrive at the Marlborough Gallery in heavy gilt frames and covered by plate glass. At a time when museums are tending  to remove the glass from all but the most valuable paintings and when artists are shying away from notions of fine art and precious objects, it is rare to find a painter who wants his work to be presented in so formal and even sumptuous a manner. Bacon explains that the glass is to "remove the images further. I don't think art is available; it's rare and curious and should be completely isolated. One is more aware of its image the more it's isolated."

The dualistic nature of Bacon's art—the ability to maintain a balance between the "vivid" and the "formal," to achieve the integration of small-sketch sensibility and large canvas grandeur, to exploit the tension between figurative resemblance and the abstract accidentalism of technique—accounts for his success in eluding categorization. The two labels most commonly invoked to pigeonhole Bacon's work, "Surrealism2"and "Expressionism," although inadequate, do touch on salient aspects of his oeuvre, such as the role of the unconscious and the use of distortion.

Bacon defines his work as realism since it is his world view that is imprinted as directly as possible from his nervous system onto the canvas, having nothing to o with the "conscious mystery" of Surrealism. He also resents attempts to identify his work with Expressionism, since the distorted forms of Expressionism usually have a programmatic, even propagandistic intent that is equally alien to his work: "Thy call me an Expressionist but I'm not in the way they were ... I have no statement to make about life, I just try too be instinctive. I have nothing to express about the human condition, but everyone reacts to their times; it's impossible to work in an ivory tower."

The three "black" triptychs, TriptychAugust 1972