Francis Bacon News

 

                                                                                                                                            

 

                                                       1934 — 1989

 

 

 

 

 MR. FRANCIS BACON

 

 

 

ART EXHIBITIONS | THE TIMES | FRIDAY FEBRUARY 16 1934

 

The difficulty with Mr. Francis Bacon is to know how far his paintings and drawings—at the New Transition Gallery, in the basement of Sunderland House, Curzon Street—maybe regarded as artistic expression and how far as the mere unloading on canvas and paper what used to be called the subconscious mind. As the latter they are not of much consequence—except by way of release to the artist. It is true that Mr. Bacon is an interesting colourist, but, then, colour is a natural gift, and is not in itself evidence of artistic talent. All art springs from the unconscious, but it is only to be judged upon the results of conscious formulation; it is not enough for a musical composer to make interesting noises; and Mr. Bacon does not seem to get beyond the creation of the uncouth shapes which are the common form of dreams.

In Studio Interior he does show some capacity for organizing a picture space in all its dimensions on a basis of hints from actual objects, but his other paintings owe too much to the suggestion of their titles, as Wound for a Crucifixion.  Does it, as a matter of cold fact, require a high degree of artistic talent to give the impression of a wound in pigment? Certainly most of the seven paintings are much too large for anything they have to say. Confidence in Mr. Bacon is not increased by the information that it is proposed to hold a series of exhibitions of his work at this gallery.

 

 

 

 

Nonsense Art Invades London

 

 

 

By PIERRE JEANNERAT | THE DAILY MAIL | THURSDAY, JANUARY 14, 1937

 

IS it a pity that the nonsense art or pseudo-art of to-day conquers and invades more and more of the leading dealers' galleries of London?

Messrs. Agnew, of 43, Old Bond Street, with a long-established reputation as sponsors of much that is great in painting (their old master shows are well known) have lent their galleries for an exhibition of contemporary pictures, which include the representation of a set of false teeth on a tripod.

No, it is not a pity. The more we see of such absurdities the more we shall realise their emptiness and ugliness.

"A Symposium," by Julian Trevelyan, at Agnew's, is no better than the scribbles made on his blotting paper by a tired business man as he answers the 'phone. "Abstractions from the Human Form," by Francis Bacon, describe the human form as a distorted toy balloon.

A few sound designs in form and colour, like Robert Medley's "Begging Family" and Roy de Maistre's "Interior at Night," are lost in this wilderness.

The Lefevre Gallery, Ia, King street, St. James's, have not been guiltless in the matter of staging bad surrealist and abstract jokes, but their good name is due to tasteful shows like their present one of interesting works by two celebrated impressionists, Pissarro and Sisley.

 

 

 

 

 

 ENGLISH PAINTERS

 

 

EXHIBITION OF MODERN WORK

 

 

 

ENTERTAINMENTS | THE TIMES | THURSDAY JANUARY 14 1937  

 

Organised, we are told, in connexion with a scheme to provide a permanent gallery for the constant display of works by contemporary painters, there is as Messrs. Agnew's an exhibition of 31 paintings by 10 more or less well-known English artists. The scheme, which is supported by, among others, Miss Thelma Cazalet, M.P., and the Director of the National Gallery, deserves every blessing, because it is highly important that people should be able to see at any time what contemporary artists are doing — whether they like it or not.

The present exhibition is wide enough in its range to include "natural" painters, like Mr. Ivon Hitchens and Mr. Robert Medley, and the severely abstract, like Mr. John Piper, whose "Painting 1935" is a good and solid example of  that kind of thing. It cannot be denied that the exhibition as a whole has rather an old-world flavour, not because the ideas in it are not contemporary but because the forms of their presentation have now been generally discarded as inadequate for the purpose. It is on the grounds of adequacy, given the medium of painting, and not because it is more naturalistic than most, that we should point to "Terrace Walk," by Mr. Ivon Hitchens, as one of the best things in the exhibition. "Arrested phrase from Colour Overture to a Film Ballet," by Mr. Roy de Maistre, has the interest of proclaiming loudly that what is needed to justify that kind of design is precisely movement, and several of the other paintings would be happier if they "worked."

The designs by Mr. Julian Trevelyan. "Description of City," in particular, are lively and entertaining, and there is food for reflection in the happy relationship between "Tree No. 2," by Graham Sutherland, and the dark perforations in the skirting of the gallery.

 

 

 


ALLEGED GAMING HOUSE

 

                 Twenty-Seven In Court   

 

 

THE WEST LONDON PRESS CHELSEA NEWS | NUMBER 4,227 | FRIDAY, OCTOBER 10, 1941   

 

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

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

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

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

 

 


ALLEGED ROULETTE PARTY

 

                          Police Visit to Flat   

 

 

THE WEST LONDON PRESS CHELSEA NEWS FRIDAY, MAY 8, 1942

 

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

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

 

‘‘No Playing for Money’’

 

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

Defendants were remanded on bail until May 19.

 

 

 


‘‘THREEPENNY ROULETTE’’

 

                   ‘‘Very Humble Game In a Flat’’

 

 

THE FULHAM CHRONICLE | FRIDAY, MAY 22, 1942

   

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

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

 

‘‘Bottle of Wine Prize on Sideboard’’

 

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

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

 

‘‘Of Good Reputation and Social Standing’’

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

     ART EXHIBITIONS

 

 

 

CLASSIFIEDS | THE TIMES | TUESDAY, APRIL 3, 1945   

 

 

THE LEFEVRE GALLERY, 131-134, New Bond Street, W.1. New works by FRANCIS BACON, FRANCES HODGKINS, HENRY MOORE, MATTHEW SMITH, GRAHAM SUTHERLAND. Daily, 10-5.30. Sats. 10-1.

 

 

 

 

 

MR. MATTHEW SMITH AND OTHERS

 

 

 

ART EXHIBITION | THE TIMES | TUESDAY, APRIL 10, 1945 

 

Among current picture exhibitions is that at the Lefevre Gallery, 131-134 New Bond Street, which consists of examples of five contemporary artists, Miss Frances Hodgkins, Mr. Matthew Smith, Mr. Henry Moore, Mr. Graham Sutherland, and Mr. Francis Bacon.

A few days ago, in these columns, a protest was made against the mere ugly violence of a certain picture by Mr. Smith. The present exhibition includes a painting shows him at his best. To say this is not to accept all that Mr. Smith's work stands for, or to think, necessarily, that he is working on the most hopeful lines for the development of painting. But the nude (No. 30) at the Lefevre Gallery certainly has power, depth of feeling, and rich intensity of colour to an impressive degree. Here at least one appreciates what the painter is after.

The selection of Mr. Moore's drawings, too, includes a first-rate example of his style, the "Drawing for Sculpture Group, 'The Family,' " which has rhythm, fine solidity, and an interesting play of shadow and light.

Of the remaining exhibitors, space only permits mention of Mr. Sutherland, whose works on this occasion are chiefly in oils. They are on the whole somewhat disconcerting in their harsh and flat colour, and have nothing of the mystery and glow after which he seemed to be striving in his familiar gouaches of the type represented in this exhibition by the little "Green Tree Forms."

 

 

 

 

ART

 

 

 

MICHAEL ARYTON | THE SPECTATOR | APRIL 13, 1945  

 

THERE is not much left to be said about either Mathew Smith or Henry Moore, both of whom are substantially represented at the Berkeley Galleries and also contribute two of the five groups of work at the Lefevre. Smith, within his limits, is a fully matured artist, vital and painterly. At the Berkeley his Red Roses and Peaches show him at his best in still life ; at the Lefevre, his Nude and Girl with Daffodil are first-rate examples of his voluptuous figure painting. Henry Moore is a gifted sculptor, for the moment highly overrated. He produces an endless series of sculptor's drawings, window-dressed with washes of colour, which seem to supply an inexhaustible market. He draws only three figures. The first stands up, the second holds the baby and the third is the first, lying down. It is a simple, elegant formula, utterly without real humanity. His sculpture is more interesting, and the small bronze studies for his Northampton Madonna will make pleasant ornaments.

The gathering at the Lefevre is a distinguished one. Regrettably, with the exception of the cool note struck by Frances Hodgkins' pictures, the very warm range of colour used by all the other artists represented, prevents single works from achieving their full effect. Frances Hodgkins shows herself to have reached a very complete and final maturity in these recent paintings. All the subtle integration and delicacy of handling which bring to her work its exquisite and personal quality are present in Dairy Farm and Cut Melons. In contrast to this perfection, minor though it may be, the new works of Graham Sutherland are not completely realised. This very fact places Sutherland as a vital figure in his generation ; for several others, equally widely known, have estab- lished themselves cosily within the formula which has made their work popular. It would have been all too easy for Sutherland to have continued indefinitely producing those subjective and exciting landscapes which have made his name. Several examples of this type of Sutherland are on view at the Lefevre, but realising that he lacked mastery in painting the human figure, he has embarked on a search for the human equivalent of his landscapes. This hideous problem is not entirely solved, though Smiling Woman is a remarkable, personal and highly important picture.

One of the most devastating effects of Picasso's influence on some of the best English painters 'now in their forties has been to force them to avoid the human figure, or else to reduce it to a completely stylised, and secondary, form. Since landscape is the one field almost unexplored by the Spanish Goliath, the major individual contributions to " post Picasso" painting in England have been in the field of landscape, since all entrances have not been blocked by the debris of Picasso's destruction of traditions. It therefore follows that Sutherland's attempt to find the-human equivalent of his landscape is likely to show a superficial similarity to certain of the all-embracing variations on the human figure theme by Picasso. It is unavoidable. The only other similarity to be remarked is the visual shorthand which is Picasso's single vital contribution to painting, and which Sutherland uses brilliantly. The fifth exhibitor at the Lefevre Galleries is a newcomer, though by no means one of the youngest painting generation, Francis Bacon, who shows a large, confused picture called Figure in a Landscape. He has power, and a personal quality which is almost entirely disguised in his other three exhibits. These are large studies for a Crucifixion which, unless he is the victim of a remarkable coincidence, are completely under the influence of one of Picasso's epochs ; the so-called " Bone " period of 1932, when with spectacular cynicism Picasso reduced the gigantic achievement of Grunewald's Isenheim Crucifixion to a series of french loaves, putty and damp cloth.

MICHAEL ARYTON

 

 

 

 

         AT THE LEFEVRE

 

 

 

By RAYMOND MORTIMER | NEW STATESMAN AND NATION | APRIL 14, 1945 

 

AN imposing exhibition, English painting at its most imaginative. Frances Hodgkins must be thought the most successfully original of our living artists. The experience of a long life, eliminating all exterior influences, is behind these apparently careless works, each of which contains several inventions in colour as happy as they are unexpected. The earlier pictures, Cut Melons and Island Ferry (three figures that seem to have gone to sea in a sofa), are beautiful; the most recent works, painted at Purback, are even more beautiful. We are told that a painter called Francis Rose is going to exhibit his paintings in Paris, but I cannot help thinking that Miss Hodgkins should have priority in transport. She has other claims than his.  Matthew Smiththe usual dash and opulence ; also some watercolours of which one would like to see many more ; for the handling that in his oils grates upon the fastidious eye here becomes agreeable. Graham Sutherlandsix oils and four gouaches. The Lamp and The Intruding Bull show Picasso prevailing entirely over Palmer among his ancestors. While scarcely less violent, the feeling is different ; but there is the same fabulous vitality and assurance in the putting on of paint. (Look at the flower, for instance, in The Intruding Bull.) The two figure-pieces I consider the most impressive things Sutherland has exhibited. I wrote about his six years ago in terms that may have seemed extravagant, but which now seem commonplace. If he continues to fulfil himself he will be one of the great painters of our time. Francis Bacona newcomer, aged, we are told, thirty-four. Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion seem derived from Picassos Crucifixion, but further distorted, with ostrich necks and button heads protruding from bagsthe whole effect gloomily phallic. (Bosch without the humour.) These objects are perched on stools, and depicted as if they were sculpture, as in the Picassos of 1930. The Figure in a landscape is no more engaging in form, but here the colour is more varied and the paint a beautiful mosaic. I have no doubt of Mr. Bacons uncommon gifts, but these pictures expressing his sense of the atrocious world into which we have survived seem to me symbols of outrage rather than works of art. If Peace redresses him, he may delight as he now dismays.

RAYMOND MORTIMER

 

 

 


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 Gallery Bonnard''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 Bacon's 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 mucus—or 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 executive—so 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

 

 

 

     ART IN LONDON

 

Paintings, Pleasant and Unpleasant

 

       FRANCIS BACON STUDIES

 

 

From Our London Art Critic | THE SCOTSMAN | NOVEMBER 26, 1949   

 

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

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

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

 

‘‘HORRIBLE SINCERITY’’

 

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

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

 

 

 

Survivors 

 

 

 TIME | NOVEMBER 21, 1949  

 


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

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

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

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

 


   

 

 


MR. FRANCIS BACON

 

 

ART EXHIBITION | THE TIMES | TUESDAY NOVEMBER 22 1949 

 

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

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

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

 

 

     

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

What is New at the Tate Gallery?

 

 

                                       By JOHN RICHARDSON

 

 

JOHN RICHARDSON | THE LISTENER | VOLUME 44 | NUMBER 1127 | THURSDAY AUGUST 31 1950    

 

HOW odd, I thought, to find an allusion to Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe in a White Paper! But the I began to realises that the Massey Report is really a very odd document. And to compare the Tate Gallery to Topsy who just ‘grow’d’ is typical of its whimsicality. Actually the Tate is not more like Topsy than any other museum. But it is a tiresome baby among museums, and one committee after another has tried to cope with its troubles. Not one of them, however, has been able to get anything effective done.

The important point is that the Tate has a duel function: to be at the same time the National Gallery of Modern Art, both British and Foreign. But the British School is always increasing in an uneven, top-heavy way, while the Foreign Schools get thinner and thinner as the National Gallery removes the finest works to Trafalgar Square. The discrepancy is now becoming enormous. And I want now to consider the purchasing policy of the present Trustees in relation to the two collections for which they are responsible.

First, the English School. For years it was an unwritten policy at the Tate to ignore pre-Hogarthian painters, so that even now its collection is weak in the seventeenth century and contains almost nothing earlier. The present Trustees, in line with the Massey Report, are making an effort to  rectify this. But so far they have only bought one seventeenth-century picture, and this by a Dutchman, Cornelius Johnson. Johnson worked for a time in England and therefore deserves his place in the gallery, but why represent him with a portrait painted after he had gone back to Holland? Another curious choice is the new Gainsborough. The Tate is not rich in good Gainsboroughs. But the polished-up remains of a mediocre portrait are hardly a worthy addition to a national museum. On the other hand, Wright of Derby’s ‘Lighthouse’ is an eminently sensible purchase, for hitherto he has been represented by only one picturehis large Caravaggiesque canvas, ‘The Experiment with an Air-Pump’. In the last few years, the neo-romantic paintersWright and his likehave become inordinately fashionable. And it must be admitted that they are often pleasing in an over-theatrical way. But we should not be misled into taking them too seriously. James Warda latter-day Stubbs who aimed at being a second Paul Potteris another of the painters I have in mind. With two recent additions, one bequeathed and one purchased, the Tate now owns at least twelve examples of this minor master; and that seems a great many. ‘The Spaniel Fighting Ducks’, a sort of imitation Oudry, is a charming and perhaps unusual work, but couldn’t the Trustees have spent their money on something more urgently needed  another Wootton or a Devis, for example?

As for the British School of the twentieth century, the Trustees have been buying good background stuff rather than outstanding worksbut then so little British painting of the last fifty years has been outstanding. A couple more Gwen Johns, one of them an excellent self-portrait, a Matthew Smith landscape, Robert Bevan’s ‘Cab Horse’, pictures by Wyndham Lewis and Jack Yates are all sensible and worthy additions to the English galleries. Only Augustus John’s portrait of Lord d’Abernon in his garter robes is an undeserving work. Here we have John at his most flashy, mismanaging the grand manner he once used to such good effect in the portrait of Madame Suggia. This, one of his best works, is no relegated to the backstairs. Modesty sits more happily on English shoulders and we have only to turn to Duncan Grant’s double-sided portrait for a really good example.

Perhaps the greatest problem facing the Trustees is to know which of our younger painters to represent. The Chantrey Bequest should have provided them with a valuable contemporary collection. But only now is this fund beginning to emerge as a real supporter. Recently, for instance, it bought Augustus John’s portrait of Matthew Smith, works by Edward Le Bas and Robert Buhler. The Cotemporary Art Society might also have made useful contributions. But its choice has been on the whole rather erratic and in any case it aims at providing contemporary paintings for so many other galleries besides. The largest contribution of recent years has been made by the War Artists Advisory Committee. The bulk of these works may not be more than pictorial journalism but at least they fill any number of in the representation of contemporary artists. Purchases out of the Tate’s own pocket are an odd assortment, but then perhaps there has been little enough for the Trustees to choose from. As far as painting goes, they have been content with only one large workanother Francis Bacon, ‘Figure in a Landscape’. I do not count this macabre piece among Bacon’s most successful efforts. It lacks spontaneity and the paint has died, rather as if the work did not come right the first time, nor even the second. Still I think that Bacon is more interesting than most of his generation. He has a conception and, what is rarer in an English artist, a personality. But the bulk of the Tate’s recent purchases consist of sculpture. The most important is the big new ‘Family Group’ by Henry Moore. This acquisition needs no justification, though one would have thought that the Tate possessed quire enough of Moore’s later work. But then it is to the Tate Gallery that anyone goes who wants to see  what Moore is doing, and we have to realise that he enjoys an international reputation. In English circles his influence appears most clearly in Barbra Hepworth’s ‘Biocentric Form’ which the Tate has just bought. Reginald Butler, on the other hand, has turned to Picasso for inspiration. But unfortunately he has not realised that  much of Picasso’s sculpture is light-hearted and experimentalintentionally so.  And so his construction of metal rods and pieces of scrap-iron is not only pointless but without the merits of a jeu d’esprit.

 

 


An Unhappy Genius

 

 

 

By ERIC NEWTON | THE SUNDAY TIMES | SEPTEMBER 17, 1950 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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.

 

    

 

 

 


British Art Covering 5 Decades

     To Have Preview Here Tonight

 

 

By ALINE B. LOUCHHEIM | THE NEW YORK TIMES | TUESDAY, OCTOBER 17, 1950 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 


‘Shall we buy this painting?’

 

 

— LEEDS ART FUND QUESTION

 

 

THE YORKSHIRE POST | LEEDS | THURSDAY, DECEMBER 14, 1950  

 

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

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

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

 

Outstanding

 

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

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

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

 

Problem picture of 1950

 

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

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

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

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

 

 


        Puzzle picture

              of 1950:

 

      ‘ugly’ . . ‘vivid’

 

 

THE YORKSHIRE POST | LEEDS | SATURDAY, DECEMBER 30, 1950

 

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

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

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

 

‘Mankind in darkness’

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

‘Not intended to be pleasant’

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

      

                          Francis Bacon, Panting, 1950, Leeds City Art Gallery

 

 

 

   Leeds Fund to

     buy Bacons

‘Painting (1950)’

 

 

THE YORKSHIRE POST | LEEDS | TUESDAY, JANUARY 9, 1951

 

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

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

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

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

 

A sinister note

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

20 pictures sold

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

The Paintings of Francis Bacon

 

 

                                   

                   By DAVID SYLVESTER

 

 

DAVID SYLVESTER | ART | THE LISTENER | VOLUME 47 | NUMBER 1192 | JANUARY 3 1952 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Immediate Sense of Pain

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

   

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

 

 


 

A painting that may baffle Batley

 

 

                         By a Yorkshire Post reporter

 

 

NEWS | THE YORKSHIRE POST | LEEDS | SATURDAY, MAY 24, 1952

 

Batley is not expected to receive without demur the painting ‘Magdalene’ by Francis Bacon, which has been presented to the Batley Art Gallery by the Contemporary Art Society. It is to be hung in the Gallery on Monday and will be part of the permanent collection.

The painting, a symbolist work, dominantly orange, blue and green, depicts a woman, her heavy body draped from the waist downward. She leans away from the artist, her body at right angles, and her long neck has above it an umbrella and veiling. Most of the head is shrouded but it peers towards the artist agonisingly, the mouth wailing open in horror and despair. Below the head are green spiked plants.

 

‘Useful to students’

 

Mr. R. W. Gelsthorpe, the curator of the gallery, confessed yesterday that he was “a little fogged” as to what the picture was. But this, in my view, does not detract from its value,” he said. The colouring, form and design are extremely good and it will be useful to students in showing them how to apply colour.

If students knew what it was meant to represent they would probably appreciate it more, he added.

The picture is regarded as a valued addition to the permanent collection. There will be controversy, but controversy stimulates interest, and Mr. Gelsthorpe believes that Francis Bacon is an essential part of any exhibition of contemporary art. Batley is a town that appreciates art and if people do not take Bacon to their heart of hearts they will, at least, argue about him.

The work had a distinct attraction, although a few people may prefer the word repulsion.” It has warmth and colour and if symbols are sought there are symbols in plenty. The suggestion is that the subject is Mary, called Magdalene, who is first mentioned in the Bible by St. Luke. She was among women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities and from her went seven devils.

 

Grief-stricken

 

She went with Jesus on the last journey to Jerusalem, witnessed the Crucifixion and followed to the Burial. She found the tomb empty and talked with the risen Christ. In the painting the woman is grief-stricken, horrified, a semi-human figure.

The Contemporary Art Society have also presented the gallery with The First Communion, by Sylvia Gosse.

 

 

 

     

                                                     The painting “Magdalene.

 

 

 

 

Round the London Art Galleries

 

 

 

By QUENTIN BELL | ART | THE LISTENER | THURSDAY JANUARY 22 1953

 

 

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

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

 

 


Snapshots from Hell

 

 

 

 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.

 

 


Round the London Galleries

 

 

 

By QUENTIN BELL | ART | THE LISTENER | THURSDAY, JUNE 17 1954

 

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

 

 

 

 

Round the London Galleries

 

 

 

R. DE MÉRIC | OPINION | THE LISTENER | THURSDAY, JULY 1 1954

 

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

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

R. DE MÉRIC   London S.W.5     

 


 

 

 

THE PAINTINGS OF MR. BACON

 

 

                               A PROPHET OF DOOM

 

 

 

THE ARTS | THE TIMES | MONDAY, JANUARY 24, 1955 

 

If it be thought that ours is an age of anxiety will not posterity be astonished to observe with what rapturous gust our prophets, both literary and pictorial, have noised their dread fact abroad? May not posterity consider that if our artists, like so many sturdy beggars, exhibited our inner sickness so confidently and so enthusiastically, they bore witness to the fact that we were really not so very sickly after all?

Chief and most able of the English prophets of delightful doom is Mr. Francis Bacon. Fourteen of his pictures are now to be seen at the Institute of Contemporary Art, 17-18 Dover Street, W.1. In canvases often enormous, on sombre grounds drenched with tones of self-induced apprehension, there sit, crouch, writhe, and huddle, the emblematic everymen of our troubled times. Their faces, all teeth and muscular contortions, are painted by dexterous smudges and calculated smears. Their bodies are hunched, and thoroughly uncomfortable. Scared yet defiant, sometimes enclosed in white cubes like cells devised for a self-sought solitary confinement, at others imprisoned behind bars like metallic rain, they snarl at the beholder (of whose interest in them they seem rather conscious), neither revolting against their miserable condition, not yet, it would appear, particularly enjoying it.

 

PSYCHOLOGICAL STUDIES

 

These images are, to say the very least of it, arresting. Three studies of the human head. (three canvases set in a single frame) portray the progress of what one can only describe as a psychological epilepsy. In the painting called Study for a portrait (No. 10, for there are three pictures with this title), the sitter, alone in a vast nowhere, seems garotted by a taut but visible cord. The picture named Study for figures shows, displayed on what maybe sea, or what maybe grass, or maybe neither, a sort of saturnalian stew of human limbs. The two “Crucifixion” paintings (one particularly horrible) are strange interpretations of this theme. And when one is confronted by the Study after Velasquez, in which an ecclesiastic grinds his teeth between two hanging Smithfield haunches, one begins to wonder whether, instead of the sardonic grin this picture was no doubt intended to evoke, a tentative smile of amusement may be permitted.

For, although Mr. Bacon’s is undoubtedly a potent and highly personal vision, and one conveyed by a technique that is bold, generous, and assured; and although his reputation is, as few British artists are, now international, while his influence, as much on students as on his illustrious elders, waxes yearly: in spite of all this, one feels misgivings.  Mr. Bacon’s paintings are almost too exciting; they shock, they daze, and yet they fail to generate, in the spectators mind, that quality which pictures imbued with a true mystery never fail to doa sense of wonder: a sense which causes the impact of the painting on the spectator to grow perpetually in memory. Mr. Bacon’s art is of our time, yet too much so; and already, to give fragrance to these frightening images, one can sense descending on them the kindly and cloying aroma of a period charm.

 

 

 

 

Round the London Galleries

 

 

 

By DAVID SYLVESTER | ART | THE LISTENER | JANUARY 27 1955 

 

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

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

 

    

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

 

 

 

Round the London Galleries

 

 

 

By ALAN CLUTTON-BROCK | THE LISTENER | VOLUME 54 NUMBER 1357 | THURSDAY, JULY 7, 1955

 

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

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

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

 


 

 

At the Tate Gallery

 

 

 

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

 

 


British Masters Of Art 

 

 

 

By ANDREW CARNDUFF RITCHIE | THE NEW YORK TIMES | SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 1956  

 

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

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

 

 

    

 

 

 

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 traces2– 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, shade without 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.

From The Hollow Men by T. S. Eliot.

 

    

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

 

 

 

 

MR. FRANCIS BACONS VIRTUOSITY

 

VAN GOGH TRANSLATED

 

 

 

THE ARTSTHE TIMES TUESDAY, MARCH 26, 1957  

 

What, one wonders, would have happened had Mr. Francis Bacons latest exhibition of paintings, at the Hanover Gallery, 32A, St. George Street, opened only a few weeks earlier?

The prospective visitor would have squared his shoulders surreptitiously at the entrance to prevent himself flinching as usual at the gruesome nightmares beyond the door, but ounce inside would probably have found that expectation was draining away and a vague disappointment takes its place. Certainly many of the old, familiar faces are still herethe characteristically shadowy remains of them, that is to saythe man in the lounge suit trapped in his glass case, the sphinx, the dog trotting along the gutter; but most of their horrible, fascinating ambiguity is gone, along with the glass which made their secrets so impenetrable. Even those dead, inhuman backgrounds made by staining the reverse side of the canvas are gone: some of these are actually painted on the front.

Both Mr. Bacons inspiration and its power over his audience seem to derive from an element of topicality which limits their lease of life. A curtain of forgetfulness, inevitable or self-induced, now shuts off Belsen from our conscious minds: even so recent a reminder of it as the film Nuit et Brouillard was of a horror dreamlike in its remoteness. As the reality of Belsen has faded, the terror of Mr. Bacons screaming mouths in claustrophobic vacuums has faded too. The horror of to-day is contained in a different image, shaped like a mushroom cloud, and that is a horror which takes place out of doors and in the broad light of day.

Then, very recently, certainly months after the decision to mount this exhibition, Mr, Bacon suddenly followed up a darker, earlier exploration of the theme with three enormous pictures after Van Gogh which have roused him to an even more brilliant display of painterly virtuosity than did Velasquezs Pope. It is possible he had seen the current film biography and the camera had again proved the potency it has always held for his imagination?

The pictures show Van Gogh himself trudging to work, painting-kit strapped to his back. But there shines on him not the health-giving sun of his own paintings but, in colours disturbingly similar, a lurid glare of unnatural light, and he himself is a lumbering, charred silhouette who, in No. 13, stops in the road and turns toward ushe, the tormented but ever-loving Vincentthe appalling mask of a radiation victim.

Mr. Bacon once again has us by the throat.

 

 

 

 

Round the London Galleries

 

 

 

By ALAN CLUTTON-BROCK | ARTTHE LISTENER VOLUME 57 NUMBER 1461THURSDAY, MARCH 28, 1957  

 

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

 

 


In Camera

 

 

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. 

 

 

 

 

FRANCIS BACON

 

 

 

BY DENYS SUTTON | THE ARTS | THE FINANCIAL TIMES | TUESDAY, APRIL 16, 1957  

 

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

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

*

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

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

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

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


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

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

*

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

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

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

 

 


 

FRANCIS BACON

 

 

 

PORTRAIT GALLERY | THE SUNDAY TIMES | MAY 5, 1957  

 

 

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

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

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

.  .  .

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

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

.  .  .

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

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

 

 

     

               Specially photographed for The Sunday Times by DOUGLAS GLASS

 

 

 

 

Three Masters of British Art

 

 

 

NEWS | THE BIRMINGHAM POST & GAZETTE | SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 1958

 

 

The exhibition Three Masters of British Art Sir Matthew Smith, Victor Passmore and Francis Bacon opened at Cheltenham Art Gallery on Saturday and will remain until October 18 as part of the Cheltenham Festival of Art and Literature.

This is the last opportunity that the public will have of seeing the exhibition, arranged by the Arts Council, for it will then end its provincial tour and the pictures will be restored to their owners.   

Sir Matthew Smith is represented by 18 pictures covering the period from 1915. They range from a nude painted in 1925 to Cornish landscapes and still life.

Francis Bacon is represented by 14 works. Among them are two of his Cardinal paintings and a study for a portrait of Van Gogh.

The Victor Passmore contribution might well have been the work of two artists. The first are those painted between 1936 an 1947, and included are some of which the artist might give explanations when he speaks on The Artist’s Workshop during the second week of the festival.

 

 

     

                                               Francis Bacon Study for Portrait II 1956

 

 

 

 

 

THREE MASTERS OF MODERN BRITISH ART

 

 

Their styles in contrast

 

 

KENNETH JAMISON | BELFAST TELEGRAPH | THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 6, 1958

 

 

FROM the Arts Council of Great Britain, C.E.M.A. has brought to Belfast a memorable exhibition entitled "Three Masters of British Painting," which may be seen until November 29 at the City Art Gallery, Stranmillis.

The three painters represented are Matthew Smith, Francis Bacon and Victor Pasmore, and their contrasting styles  pointedly compliment one another.

Sir Matthew Smith, now in his 80th year, is the eldest of the three, and his work makes the most direct appeal. The glowing canvases of the 'twenties, Girl Reclining or Flowers in Blue Vase, recall the style of Renoir, another sensuous painter of figure and flower.

 

Sensitive nuances

 

Perhaps the most formative influence on Smith's art, however, was his acquaintance in Paris with the great French master, Matisse, for Smith's use of line    the sweep of contour, the fluent movement of boundary between colours   is similar. But his line is restless, more energetic, his colour more passionate, his work altogether more  sensuous and opulent.

Victor Pasmore has always been more calculating than Smith, more detached, concerned with sensitive nuances of mood and almost  ascetic  delicacies of colour and shape. Here we can follow his development over 20 years, from poetic  landscape to abstract  relief constructions in wood.

The spiral motif in "Subjective Landscape" (1951) recalls for me studies of energy and motion in the drawings of moving water, by Leonardo da Vinci. But after this date Pasmore has pursued a progressively more abstract style, culminating in the two relief constructions.   

Deeply satisfying to contemplate, these austere rectangles of black and white exist simply as a perfectly poised arrangement. I leave it to the reader to debate  whether an art must forge some closer association with human experience.

 

Violence implied

 

Born in Dublin in 1910, Francis Bacon is the least well represented. In spite of this his pictures make the most powerful impact upon me.

I do not know whether I like them; I do not think one does like Bacon's work any more than one can like the horrifying imagines with which Goya castigated his contemporaries for the futile brutality of war. But their disturbing  force is undeniable; one cannot escape it.

The comment here is perhaps on universal anxiety, not the immediate fear of physical violence as in the Goyas, but an almost hysterical apprehension of some impending violence one cannot anticipate, from which, caged in by circumstances, one cannot escape; "violence threatened, implied, remembered, but never actual violence."

The suspense, the apprehension, is perhaps itself the violence, the force which makes these decayed, disintegrating images the Figure in a Landscape, the Portrait of a Cardinalunforgettable.

Kenneth Jamison

 

 

 

It was mumbo-jumbo!  

 

 

LAST NIGHT'S TV

 

 

By JACK BELL | DAILY MIRROR | WEDNESDAY 10 NOVEMBER 1958

 

DAN FARSON, who has made a name for himself as an astute investigator for such ITV series as “People in Trouble” and “Keeping in Step,” last night took a look at “The Art Game”.

This programme claimed to try to find out what lies behind the current boom in the world of art.

I was disappointed. It was as full of mumbo-jumbo as some of the paintings that its camera alighted on.

An interview with an action painterwho rode a bicycle over some of his paintings and now sets alight to parts of his canvases for effectproduced the admission that the titles had no connection with the paintings.

The programme ended with a long discussion with a man in a back leather windcheater named Francis Bacon, whom Farson introduced as the painter some regard as the most brilliant in Britain today.

However he admitted that Bacon was unknown to the vast majority.

‘Usually Comic’

The most coherent contribution came from a society portrait artist Cowen Dobson the man famous for his paintings of beautiful women.

Dobson’s view of most modern art: Usually comic and distortedthree eyes and so on. I don't think even the artist understands it.

 

 

   

                                Francis Bacon “The Art Game” ITV 1958

 

 

 

 

SPINE CHILLER PAINTER IS SUED

 

 

By JOHN RYDON | DAILY EXPRESS | TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 25 1958 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

‘GOOD FAITH

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

  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.

 

 

 

Round the London Art Galleries

 

 

 

By ALAN CLUTTON-BROCK | THE LISTENER | VOLUME 61 NUMBER 1578 | THURSDAY, JUNE 25, 1959

 

 

Ten paintings by  Francis Bacon from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. James Bomford are shown at the Hanover Gallery. Among them are two large paintings of a Pope, done in 1953 and no doubt after some study of Velasquez's great portrait; these, like most of Bacon's paintings, convey an impression of extreme tension, a moment of crisis, which is not to be in any way explained. But perhaps it could be explained if we were to be shown all his pictures arranged in chronological order; we might then find that some arbitrary if arresting invention, such as the cage-like framework within which the figures are enclosed, had some comparatively simple and even accidental motivation. Thus the criss-cross of speckles which appears in a landscape shown here has also appeared in other works by Bacon and there is some reason to believe that he got the idea from observing the behaviour of a television screen. Why an artist who can compose with real breadth and firmness should require to be stimulated by such bizarre and fortuitous trivialities is not easy to understand but one must try to believe that he is not actuated by pure caprice.

 

 

Round the London Art Galleries

 

 

 

By ALAN CLUTTON-BROCK | THE LISTENER | VOLUME 63 NUMBER 1618 THURSDAY, MARCH 31, 1960

 

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

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

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

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

 

   

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

 

 

 

 

STUDENTS CRITICAL OF PICTURE

 

 

 

NEWS | BELFAST TELEGRAPH MONDAY, OCTOBER 10, 1960

 

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

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

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

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

The reason for their visit?

organised exhibitions for him in Paris and Milan.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

      

                            The £1,380 question        

          This is the painting which has been the cause of arguments

 

 

 

 

Art: On Action Painting

  

 

Diverse Sampling of This Style on View at Martha Jacksons  

 

 

By STUART PRESTON | THE NEW YORK TIMES | SATURDAY, JANUARY 7, 1961

 

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

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

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

.

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

 

 

      

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

 

 

 

 

   SINCERITY OF FRANCIS BACON

 

 

    REWARDING SHOW AT NOTTINGHAM

 

 

    By TERRENCE MULLALY | THE DAILY TELEGRAPH | 20 FEBRUARY 1961 

 

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

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

 

WANING INFLUENCE

 

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

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

 


OLD PROBLEMS

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

   paintings by Francis Bacon at Nottingham University

 

 

 

          BEYOND DESPAIR

 

                                     by Anthony Tucker 

 

 

ANTHONY TUCKER | THE ARTS | THE GUARDIAN | THURSDAY FEBRUARY 23 1961 

 

A MAN sits, grey and grinning, his face soft and distorted, one eye higher than the other, as if crushed by some terrible injury. He sits locked between lines, light against dark, in space which is defined and yet limitless. His feet are linear indications: he can walk and yet and yet if he walks we we know he will stagger uncontrollably. His hands are useless splodges awkwardly clasped as if in shame. He is a man but his shape is foetal; we can follow his form backwards, away from the toe of solid white which somehow defines the plane of the canvas. Nearest, behind the toe, the nose: behind the nose, the eyes: behind the eyes, where there should be a mind, there is hopeless, inane, despair. This man is trapped and doomed, a symbol of impotence and futility seen through a grey mist of unutterable depression. It is a self-portrait of Francis Bacon, painted three years ago.

He is now 50, an artist who has painted alone for more than twenty-five years, showing mainly in London and New York. While one stream of fashionable painting has moved from dialectics to emotive dribble and disintegration, he has moved steadily closer to humanity caught at a moment of inhumanity, caught at a time of discontinuity, of appalling, invidious, silent horror. Perhaps, if he makes us sick he has succeeded: we get the artists we deserve.

And in the retrospective exhibition of his work gathered in the Fine Art Department of Nottingham University, we can see what we have apparently deserved from him since 1931. The early indications of the Crucifixion, continuous yet in vain. The sudden shift to symbolic portraits made with a limited palette of black, white, and purple, terrifying in their actuality and their unspoken context of taut yet near hysterical horror. Mankind locked in a locked paranoid box, suffering, useless, mouthing its despair voicelessly in an unheeding silence. The series of purple Cardinals, grotesquely defined, almost faceless, locked-up behind golden bars. And now suddenly, within the last two or three years, paintings without linear boxes, but with simple areas of colour, and flesh not death-grey but suffused with the warmth of blood. It is as if a light has been switched on to reveal not a cage but a silent padded cell.

The violent portraits, the triple-head which ends in facial obliteration, have no place here. The barrier of despair has been passed, and in the clam beyond, all that was frustrated action has become passive submission, all that was violence has become composed contemplation.

But the foetal shapes are still there and the faces, boneless now and distorted as if of melting wax, are still inane and without hope. As symbols they are more moving because there is no hysteria to distract us: as paintings they are more complete than anything of the artist's former work; as one man's reaction to the human situation they are devoid of love, devoid of compassion, almost obscene, but still by their complete honesty entirely valid. The important thing is the way in which we accept their validity.

There is, in the exhibition, one pointer, a sketch for a portrait quickly made against a striped background. It is in black, white, grey, and purple, and fairly clearly defined. What matters are its eyes; for behind one can sense a steady mind, another individual. Beside it hangs the finished portrait made from the sketch: its eyes are void, its personality stunted. It is a negation of humanity, no longer portraiture but much more accurately self-portraiture. If we accept it as important and visionary we must accept Bacon as a kind of inverted twentieth century Goya, whittling everything down to one sick size. If we accept it simply as one man's attempt to solve his personal problems, then we seem somehow to be nearer its true stature.

For, in the end, the morbidity, the total absorption of despair, the uncompromising absence of love, are artificial abnormalities whose importance lies in the increased stature they impart to their opposite values. Perhaps this is Francis Bacon's importance too. But you cannot say, as you leave his work behind: "There but for the Grace of God ..." You leave it feeling haunted, slightly guilty, measurably reduced. If Francis Bacon is not a prophet, he is an enemy.

 

 

   

                                                         1958 : self-portrait

 

 

 

 

 

Francis Bacon at Nottingham

 

      STEPHEN SPENDER on an exciting modern painter

 

 

By STEPHEN SPENDER | AR| THE LISTENER | THURSDAY, 23 FEBRUARY 1961 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Open until March 12

 

    

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

 

 

 

 

Impressionists Had Eye Disease – Doctor

 

 

COVENTRY EVENING TELEGRAPH | TUESDAY, APRIL 17, 1962

 

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

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

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

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

He corrected the defect with glasses and continued to paint.

 

 

 

 

Francis Bacon Too Shrill a Cry ?

 

 

                       By Denys Sutton

 

 

 

DENYS SUTTON ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT THE FINANCIAL TIMES TUESDAY, MAY 29, 1962

 

It is generally considered that Francis Bacon is one of the most fascinating, original and extraordinary members of the British school. His startling and aggressive pictures and his unusual personality, with its touch of despairing Bohemianism, exert a tremendous appeal on the younger generation.

He is a painter who does not pull his punches—this is abundantly clear in the large-scale exhibition of his work at the Tate Gallery. He is a painter who loves to shock and, just as Bruant used to taunt the visitors to his cabaret in the 1890's, so Bacon teases us by his presentation of life in the rawof human personality in its tense and anguished moments. At the time when many claim that the Wall is on the way down, he seeks to confirm our view; his is the statement of a man haunted by the death wish.

The clue to Bacon's character as a painter lies in his early years. As a young man, after leaving home, he wandered across Europe of the 1920's, putting in a spell in Berlin of the day: corrupt, frenetic, dancing toward doom, This is the atmosphere, so well depicted in Christopher Isherwood's novels, which has shaped his art. In a sense, he can be linked up with the German school and with the neurotic art of Munch.

Little is known about Bacon's early period, the bulk of which he destroyed. But the few pictures from the 'thirties on view, reveal that he elements which compose his later style were already evident: a delight in dark background and ghostly effects and the Crucifixion.

Bacon is a complex artist and typical of the feelings of love-hate which activate him is his attitude to the Old Masters, and in particularly to Velázquez. Thus he has frequently painted interpretations of Velázquez's Pope Innocent X in the Doria Gallery, Rome. Incidentally, he has never seen the picture. There is perhaps a certain Dadaistic anti-art sentiment in the way he continually comes back to this picture; does it appear to him as a symbol of the tradition to which he would like to belong?

Yet, in a way, he is a most traditional artist. He is a typical exponent of the Gothic Horrific, which held sway in this country at the close of the 18th century. Fuseli, in fact, comes to mind and certain of his pictorial effects recall this master's tricks. With Bacon, the suppressed elements in society have also burst out. And to see this exhibition is to be irresistibly reminded of The Romantic Agonythat volume in which Mario Praz took the lid off the tortures of the fin de siècle. Cruelty, ambiguous sex, a penchant for the perverse—all these occur in his art, as well as that characteristic love of the last century: the Sphinx. He takes us back into the world of Moreau, Rops and Sar Péladan.  How Jean Lorrain would have enjoyed writing a prose portrait of him!

His approach is a typical manifestation of the world weariness which intervenes at certain moments in history. Thus he both gloats over the unusual and derives stimulus from the decadence he paints. Yet his message is a trifle banal. Surely, by now, we are all aware that the world is brutal, that we are coarse, corrupt, depraved. It was the business of the 19th century naturalistic novelist to make that clear; and he did so. And Bacon does no more than reaffirm this sad truth. But does he accomplish this in a way which makes us grasp the tragedy of our situation? Does he do so with the means available to the painterthe properties of pant? He is exceedingly able in the way he utilises photographs and gives an impression that s figure or a scene are caught at one moment of time. Just as Sickert in his final period achieved this immediacy of impression, so does Bacon. However, the actual surface does not survive on its own, without the image which is presented. The paint does not live in his work independently as it does with Titian.

What catches us is the image: the image of the horrific. But his image does not purge us as does true tragedy; we are brought down, not elevated. Goya, for instance, in those terrifying black-and-grey pictures in the Prado reveals despair and terror, but in the end, we are convinced by the pictorial means employed; somehow we are given the courage to continue, a courage which stems from the recognition that here is a an who has triumphed over the demons in terms of his art.

Mr. Bacon may be saluted for his drive, for his dexterity, for his courage. But his painting, once seen, does not live in the mind; it is too temporary, too dependent on external circumstance, too hampered by the hate of passion. In short, his protest is too shrill to hold us for long.

 

     

                                          Francis Bacon's “Sphinx II,” 1953.

 

 

 

‘Distort into Reality’

 

 

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT | ART 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.


 

 

 

 

 

BACON’S WORKS SHOCK VIEWER 

 

 

 

Painter with eye to realities

 

 

By TERRENCE MULLALY | DAILY TELEGRAPH & MORNING POST | THURSDAY, MAY 24, 1962  

 

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

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

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

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

 

“EMPTINESS” THEME

 

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

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

 

HORRIFYINGLY COMPLETE

 

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

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

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

 

 

    

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

 

 

 

 

The Horrific Vision of Mr. Francis Bacon

 

 

 

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 | MISCELLANY | 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 levels of these often horrific and sometimes repellent images are deeper levels, equally disturbing but more worth analysing, and not until one can come to grips with them does the exhibition become serious and cease to be merely sensational.

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

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

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

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

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

This, as far as I know, has never happened in art before. Occasionally a misericord seat in a Gothic Choir stall hints at it, but always as a secret assertion that the grotesque is also a part of life.  F