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.

 

‘‘Not 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. Moores 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 sculptors 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 established 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 Picassos 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 Picassos 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 Grunewalds 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

 

 

 

 

Current Shows and Comments: On the Significance of a Word

 

 

 

HERBERT FURST | APOLLO | THE INTERNATIONAL ART MAGAZINE | VOLUME 41 | NUMBER 231 | MAY 1945

 

I, I must confess, was so shocked and disturbed by the Surrealism of Francis Bacon that I was glad to escape from this exhibition.

Perhaps it was the red background that made me think of entrails, of an anatomy or a vivisection and feel squeamish.

 

 

 

 

          LEFEVRE GALLERY

 

 

                   NEW ENGLISH PAINTINGS

 

 

THE ARTS | THE TIMES | TUESDAY FEBRUARY 19 1946

 

At the Lefevre Gallery, 131-134, New Bond Street, several English painters are exhibiting their recent works.

Mr. Julian Trevelyan, in his paintings of the Thames, which are both sensitive and highly original in colour, is the most obviously concerned with the art of painting; with most of the others the emphasis is on the invention of recondite symbols.

Mr. Graham Sutherland shows a large picture of thorny vegetation which depends for its interest on the vitality; analogous to that of an animal rather than a plant, which, the painter has read into the forms; its size brings out the absence of anything but a very simple pictorial scheme, and in a smaller work one could better appreciate the individual character of the forms.

In Mr. Lucian Freuds little pictures, for example, there is nothing to prevent one from appreciating his invention, his faculty for investing quite simple objects with a certain strangeness.

Mr. Robert Colquhoun uses an idiom based on Picassos later works, but as an illustrator he has something of his own to say; his schematic figures have a definite character of their own and suggest witches living in shabby, modern rooms, with their familiars, cat or canary.

In two large pictures Mr. Francis Bacon, a yet more deliberately sinister illustrator, does suggest, if one likes that kind of thing, that one has got into a room where a murderer has hastily tried to conceal a corpse. Mr. Ben Nicholson shows a number of his virtuous abstractions.

 

 

 

 

THE REDFERN GALLERY

 

 

 

THE ARTS | THE TIMES | MONDAY JULY 29 1946

 

At the Redfern Gallery, 20, Cork Street, there is a large summer exhibition of several hundred French and English paintings, watercolours, drawings, and prints. One room is almost entirely given up to illustrations with a surrealist tendeiicy and abstract paintings. Among these Mr. Francis Bacon’s very large picture is easily the most alarming, and in a film this extraordinary vision might well make one jump out of one’s seat; as such, or con- ceived as an illustration in a book, it would be more easily justified than as a large canvas which one would hardly know what to do with if it was left on one’s hands.

Mr. Andrd Masson’s “Champ de Blé” is interesting because it is organized as an abstract picture, but the various apparently disconnected motives give the whole a sharp flavour of some real and attractive scene. Among other interesting works in this most varied exhibition are paintings by Bonnard, Vuillard, Derain, Matisse, and Picasso — none of these are works of the first importance — an unusual still-life by Utrillo, an opulent composition of nudes by Mr. Matthew Smith, “The Window” by Mr. Julian Trevelyan, which has both charm and originality of vision, “Woman in Blue Dress” by Spencer Gore, and “Tangerines and Pomegranates” by Mark Gertler.

 

 

 

 

THE ANGLO-FRENCH ART CENTRE

 

 

 

THE ARTS | THE TIMES | SATURDAY DECEMBER 14 1946

 

At the Anglo-French Art Centre, 29, Elm Tree Road, St. John's Wood, there is an exhibition, which is afterwards to be shown in Paris, of the work of six English painters, Mr. Jankel Adler, Mr. Francis Bacon, Mr. Robert Colquhoun, Mr. Edgar Hubert, Mr. Robert MacBryde, and Mr. Julian Trevelyan.

The catalogue suggests that other such exhibitions, to be held both in London and Paris, may follow, and that the object is to show what is most representative of painting in England; obviously the present works, if taken by themselves, are quite inadequate to represent the main trends of English painting at the present time, since there is no artist here who accepts a realistic approach. Mr. Adler, Mr. Colquhoun, Mr. Hubert., and Mr. MacBryde use the language of abstract painting very seriously, but with individual accents of their own.

Mr. Francis Bacon shows three really alarming but undoubtedly well-designed studies of what appear to be fragments From a dissecting-room, and Mr. Trevelyan a number of his characteristic genre paintings, which seem refreshingly light-hearted in this company and are painted with great tact and dexterity.

 

 

 


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 BonnardDans le Jardin is an oasis of peaceful power and beautyor so it seems as I look back, for immediately afterwards I went to Francis Bacons exhibition at the Hanover Gallery whose world is as far as it is possible to get from the robust serenity of French painting of the Impressionist school.

This Hanover Gallery show, however, is of exceptional importance. Of the younger painters none actually paints so beautifully as Francis Bacon. I have seen painting of his that reminded me of Velasquez and like that master he is fond of blacks. Liquid whitish accents are delicately dropped upon the sable ground, like blobs of 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 ones 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 EXHIBITIONS | 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.

 

 


NEW ACQUISITIONS AT

               THE TATE

 

 

                        OLD AND RECENT WORKS

 

 

THE ARTS | THE TIMES | FRIDAY JUNE 2 1950 

 

The Tate Gallery’s new acquisitions, which are on exhibition in Room 19 for a fortnight from yesterday, include a number of paintings and sculptures which are obviously intended to fill gaps in the collections of British and foreign art of the past or recent past.

Besides these, there are a few works which have been bought because it is also the gallery’s business to acquire examples, of contemporary art. Among these are a large piece of abstract sculpture in wrought iron by Mr. Reg Butler, which is certainly a good piece of craftsmanship, and one of the most unpleasant of all the products of Mr. Francis Bacon’s disquieting imagination, a large painting in which only those with the most iron nerves and settled stomachs will be able to perceive that there are passages of agreeable colour. A bronze by Giacometti, “Man Pointing” is an expressive work of some elegance, but it is impossible not to feel that it is also rather frivolous.

Two life-size bronzes by Renoir are no doubt the most impressive of the new acquisitions, but there are also an agreeable, though in no way exceptional, Gainsborough portrait, a Cornelius Johnson portrait, which no doubt fills a gap in the collection, a pleasing though preposterous painting by John Ward of a spaniel frightening ducks, an interesting early portrait of Lytton Strachey by Mr. Duncan Grant, a rather dark self-portrait by Owen John, a very fine cubist still-life by Juan Gris, and a moonlit landscape by Wright of Derby. The Duveen trustees have presented an admirable “Portrait of Dorelia” by Owen John.

A late work by Calvert, “Arcadian Shepherds moving flocks at dawn,” and a late Samuel Palmer, “A Dream in the Apennines,” are elaborate and ambitious compositions, both of them executed long after the inspiration of Blake and the romantic excitement of the artists' youth had passed; they were bequeathed to the gallery by Mrs. H. P. Medlicott.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

                   HANOVER GALLERY

 

 

MR. FRANCIS BACON’S PAINTINGS

 

 

 

HANOVER GALLERY | THE TIMES | FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 22 1950    

 

A group of large paintings by Mr. Francis Bacon, some of which have been shown before, is exhibited at the Hanover Gallery. For the most part they represent atrocities and torments, but with a certain vagueness and lack of definition which makes it just possible, though only just, to contemplate them with- out the extreme physical revulsion that a more exact delineation of such scenes would provoke.

Thus in one painting a naked figure, huge and misshapen, is placed near a machine-gun aimed directly at it, but the head has somehow been left out, not obviously but as if this was a natural result of the artist's loose technique of painting and his use of blurred contours, in much the same way, in fact, as details are omitted in a broadly painted landscape.

In one sense such ambiguity adds a new touch of horror, but it is at least in part a horror of the imagination rather than such as might be roused by a literal transcription of fact; by such means Mr. Bacon has, it must be admitted, achieved something that might almost be called a tragic interpretation, rather than a merely sensational record, of the new world of the concentration camp that faces the twentieth century.

But the pictures are so large and disquieting that in spite of the impressive powers that have evidently gone to their planning and execution one is forced to ask what purpose they can have; they would be impossible in any living room; there is no building of to-day in which they could fulfil the function of a painting of Hell in a medieval church; museums can and sometimes do take them, but there is something unsatisfactory, and much as if teapots were being made for the British Museum, about a picture that can find no other abode.

 

 

 

 

MODERN BRITISH PAINTING

 

 

            UNITED STATES EXHIBITION

 

 

THE ARTS | THE TIMES | TUESDAY OCTOBER 3 1950 

 

A touring exhibition of contemporary British painting, organized by the English-Speaking Union of the United States, is to open in New York on October 17. The exhibition is entitled Fifty Years of British Art and has been designed as a brief but carefully chosen anthology from the early Sickert down to the present time. It represents the work of 29 painters and is limited to 50 pictures.

The organization of the exhibition has been wade possible by the generosity of public galleries, of institutions, and, above all, of private collectors who, in spite of the heavy toll upon their resources levied for the public good by such bodies as the British Council and the Arts Council, have almost unfailingly cooperated in the unions undertaking. Among the earlier pictures in the exhibition are Mr. Augustus Johns Portrait of Bernard Shaw, lent by the Queen; Sickerts Interior of St Marks, lent by the trustees of the Tate Gallery; and Sir William Rothensteins Portrait of Augustus John as a Young Man, lent by the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. The earlier section of the exhibition also includes works by Gore, Gilman, and Innes. Among the pictures representing the most recent developments in English art are Mr. Francis Bacon's Head and Monkey and Mr. Lucian Freuds Nude”.  Also included in the exhibition are examples of the art of Mr. Duncan Grant, Mr. Ben Nicholson, and Mr. David Jones.

As a whole, the selection, which has been made by Mr. Robin Ironside with the help of Sir Kenneth Clark and Mr. Raymond Mortimer, is said to emphasize on the one hand the persistent vigour of Sickertian impressionism as it has been developed by such painters as Mr. William Coldstream and Mr. Victor Pasmore, and, on the other, the romantic reaction led by Mr. Graham Sutherland, Mr. Henry Moore, and Mr. John Piper.

The pictures will be on view in New York for a fortnight and will afterwards be shown in 10 other cities, including Washington, Chicago, and Boston

 

 

 

 

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 citys 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

 

 


 

     The Arts and Entertainment

 

 

FRANCIS BACON

 

 

                                   

         JOHN BERGER

 

 

 

JOHN BERGER | THE NEW STATESMAN & NATION | JANUARY 5, 1952 

 

It has always been Francis Bacons very considerable reputationnot his workwhich has puzzled me. Now, having thought a good deal about his six new paintings at the Hanover Gallery, I think that I begin to see the matter a little more clearly.

Three of these paintings are of a Pope (Innocent X from the Velazquez portrait) sitting n his throne in a class case in a black box-like room. (In two of them the features of the Popes face dissolve into a scream.) The fourth painting is of Mr. Lucian Freudalso in a glass case and box; the fifth is of a palaeolithic man doubled up in front of a grey curtain, and the sixthsmaller than the large ones is of a human doing something to an ape in a zoo.

The really impressive thing about these pictures is that they exist. Nor is that such a stupid statement as it sounds. Many contemporary paintings are fragmentary and inconclusive, so that, like over-heard conversations, their power depends on their context. They barely exist in their own right. These paintings by Bacon do exist in their own right, and indeed have a uniquely convincing presence which their startling, unlikely subject matter somehow makes even more convincing. One watches them, hypnotised as an agnostic might be hypnotised by some ectoplasmic manifestation at a séanceand, in fact, the way that the greyish figures materialise out of the dark, detailed in some places and almost lost in others, is reminiscent of such an affair.

Yet the reason for the power of their presence are, when combined, the very reasons why in my opinion Bacon is a very remarkable but not finally important painterwhy he is really outside the main tradition. These paintings are haunting because Bacon is a brilliant stage manager, rather than an original visual artist; and because their emotion is concentratedly and desperately private.

I say that Bacon is a brilliant stage manager rather than an original artist because there is no evidence in his work of any visual discovery, but only of imaginative and skilful arrangement. The objects in his pictures are chosen for the meaning they already have and this meaning is then given a twist by their odd juxtaposition. No new meaning is added in the actual process of painting them. Looking at the painting of the Pope one is not made aware, in some newly vivid way, of the construction of the human head or of the possible vibration of the two colours; instead, one is fascinated by a particular dramatic; ones eye travels across open areas of black paint on unprimed canvas and is then held by an intensely staring head, painted with grey paint mixed with sand so that it has the acrid quality of cigarette ash. One notices the folds in the curtains and robe, not because they really qualify the form underneath, but because their shadows are startlingly and sometimes fearfully suggestive. All this, however, is necessary if the paintings are to exercise their immediate hypnotic power. If, for example, the edges of the glass case emphasised too originally the space they contained one would forget the usual associations of glass cases and the spell would be broken.

Everything then depends upon the content of the pictures and, since most of them are horrific, on the meaning of horror, disgust and loneliness. Here it is impossible to be dogmatic, but for myself I believe that Bacons interpretation of such suffering and disintegration is too egocentric, that he describes horror with connivance that his descriptions lack not only the huge perspective of compassion but even the smaller perspective of indignation. I feel myself that the Pope screams not because of the state of his conscience or the state of the world but, puppet-like, simply because he has been put into Bacons glass case. And again, if this is true, it explains the hypnotic power of the paintings. The spectator watches as at the Grand Guignol, fascinated because, in a sense, made cosythe horror is stimulating because it is remote, because it belongs to a life removed from the normal world.

If Bacons paintings began to deal with any of the real tragedy of our time, they would shriek less, they would be less jealous of their horror, and they would never hypnotise us, because we, with all conscience stirred, would be too much involved to afford that luxury.

 

 

 

    HANOVER GALLERY

 

MR. BACONS PAINTINGS

 

 

 

ENTERTAINMENTS | THE TIMES | MONDAY JANUARY 7 1952 

 

Mr. Francis Bacon’s private mythology, which has always been sufficiently mysterious, has become a distorted and scarcely interpretable dream in the small number of very large pictures which make up his exhibition at the Hanover Gallery, 32A, St. George Street.

But there is no telling what the Pope, who appears in more than one picture, signifies, why he should seem to be screaming, in what way, if any, he is connected with Velasquez’s celebrated portrait, and why there should be some suggestion that he is sitting in a glass case.

But it is, of course, just such absolutely baffling dreams that in real life make the most vivid impression and one which persists uncomfortably throughout the waking hours; Mr. Bacon’s pictures have the same effect and are certainly not tedious as the narration of other people’s dreams always is, but, on the contrary, seem as momentous, and in the same exasperating way, as any dream of one’s own.

The effect is perhaps enhanced by a new simplification of form and design which can be seen in these works; the paintings concentrate rigidly on the presentation of a single image and the-variety of incident's that sometimes appeared in earlier pictures has completely gone.

But at the same time this austerity reveals more clearly than before Mr. Bacon’s lack of any intense interest in shapes, colours, or quality of paint except in so far as they are necessary for the representation of his visions; he has a remarkable sense of scale and a power of composing on a large canvas without displaying weakness of construction, but there are few other signs of any considerable development of the more instinctive feelings of a painter.

 

 

 

 

     The Art of Art Criticism

 

 

                                   

                The first of two talks by HERBERT READ 

 

 

 

HERBERT READ | THE LISTENER | VOLUME 47 | NUMBER 1209 | THURSDAY, MAY 1, 1952   

 

I ACCEPT, as a point of departure, the frequently expressed opinion that something is wrong with art criticism in England. By art criticism in the accepted sense we mean the current criticism of  painting, sculpture, architecture and other visual arts. But what is criticism? There is ambiguity in this very word, for the nature of criticism must be determined by the nature of the audience to which it is addressed. A teacher, moving from easel to easel in the life class, will be critical in one manner; pointing to faulty composition in one case, to an insensitive line in another, to inadequacies of all kinds; at the same time praising successes where they exist, and always urging on his pupils by communicating to them his sympathy and enthusiasm. That I would call professional criticism, and with its technicalities and jargon it should be confined to its proper sphere, the studio or the school of art.

 

The Historical and Aesthetical Attitudes

There is another kind of criticism which is not now in question. Though it can be applied to contemporary art, it is properly speaking historical criticism, by which I mean the delineation of movements and groups, the description of styles, the analysis of techniques and materialsin general, the post-mortem attitude to art. Finally, there is what I would call the aesthetic or philosophical criticism of art. In so far as aesthetics is a science, and philosophy a discipline, this is also a form of criticism which calls for a specialised terminology and a concentrated manner of thought. The best art critics have, of course, a philosophical background: their criticism is an applied philosophy, but is not in itself a philosophical activity.

What, then, are we left with that might be called simply art criticism? It must be an activity addressed, not to a professional minority of any kind, but to the general body of educated opinion, and it must give its public  something it wantssomething that it is not capable of finding for itselfin one word, enlightenment. Such a criticism will either be informative or interpretive. It will not assume that everyone has seen the work of art the critic is talking about; on the contrary, it will try to give everyone a vivid image of the object in question. Having done this, the critic will proceed to interpret the artists intention, and in the end he may express his own view of the artists achievement.

 

Demands on the Poor Blind Reader

Again, when the critic tells us that the familiar rococo pattern is impregnated with space and light and density and that the eye no longer slides off the patterned surface but explores his shapes and is drawn inwards between them, I know what these rather mixed metaphors mean. A knowledge of the history of art has given me a general idea of rococo pattern, but I wonder, for example, how many laymen have a clear image of the difference between rococo and a barque pattern? As for the difficult feat of impregnating such a pattern, not only with space and light, but at the same time with density; and the still more mysterious business of an eye that slides off surfaces, explores shapes and ends up by getting brawn in between them, all that will require, on the part of the poor blind reader or listenerI call him blind because he has never seen the painting in questiona prodigious power of visualisation.

Now let me take another example: this time from a broadcast talk which I personally found very illuminating, but which I understand baffled some listeners:

In 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. 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.

Admittedly there is some jargon here: volumes are not modelled in any precisely visual sense: they maybe suggested by certain pictorial means: and only in some metaphorical sense could such volumes become tangible. We do not touch volumes; we fill them, really or imaginatively. But apart from such expressions, the language is such as might be used by a lecturer in a physics laboratory. If you protest that art is not physics, I think the critic would be justified in retorting that that is just what it is the manipulation of physical substances to create the illusion of physical experience that the painter wants to conveyFrancis Bacon, for example, wants to recreate in the spectator the actual feeling of the stretched-out armpits and biceps conveyed in his painting of the Crucifixion. In describing the painters intention in terminology taken from the science of physics, this particular critic was, I would say, using precise analytical language. It would seem, therefore, that what we really distrust and by we I mean the general public is the analytical method itself: we remember Wordsworths phrase, we murder to dissect, and we would rather be left with a living unity, however baffling it might be. Should not criticism confine itself to giving us the sense of wholeness, the sense of richness, the sense of interestwhich was the impression Hazlitt gave us of Poussins Orion?

The critic might reply:Give me a Poussin and I will rival Hazlitt; but I cant do a Hazlitt over the amorphous ectoplasm of a modern painting. The material the modern art critic has to criticise is not the same: you could hardly describe Francis Bacons paintings, for example, as a stream of pleasant thoughts passing through the mind!  And an abstraction by Ben Nicholson does not offer quite the same opportunities for poetic disquisition as blind Orion hungry for the morn.  In deserting nature, in the sense in which Hazlitt understood that term, the abstract painter has left the critic speechless, or at any rate in need of a new language. This, of course, is not true of all types of modern art; the surrealist painters gave their critics plenty of poetic grist; and the return of some of our younger painters to the old English habit of anecdotage in paint might eventually inspire a corresponding loquacity in criticismgiven the space for it.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

  REALISM IN PAINTING

 

 

            EXHIBITION OF RECENT WORKS

 

 

ENTERTAINMENTS | THE TIMES | MONDAY JULY 7 1952

 

The Institute of Contemporary Arts has arranged an interesting exhibition of “recent trends in realist painting” at 17-18, Dover Street. This is a miscellaneous collection of pictures by English artists and artists of the school of Paris, prompted by the belief that there is at present a revival of realism and that “this tendency, for all the strange variousness of its ramifications, almost certainly contains more vigour and promise than any other in contemporary painting.” But most of the realism shown here can 'be considered such only by contrast with abstract or surrealist art; only if a wholly conceptual mode of painting is considered the norm could M. Masson or M. Buffet be classed with Professor Coldstream or Mr. Lucian Freud because of their various departures from it.

The obvious difference between the situation of these realists and that of the practitioners of abstract or in other ways unrealistic art is that they are not dominated by one commanding influence; they have no one like Picasso to guide or overwhelm their talents. It is a situation which has its obvious disadvantages, for again and again in the history of art the living presence of one great artist, and still more of two-or three, has had an extraordinary effect in raising the general standard of production. But since it is quite possible that Picasso has for the moment brought the painting of those who follow him to a full stop, perhaps in much the same way as Michelangelo did with Florentine art, it may well be that it is the lesser of two evils to work, in isolation and in a way that is really much more experimental than the now orthodox pursuit of high abstraction.

T'he exhibition certainly demonstrates the variety of individual expression that can be got by even such a sidelong glance at nature as Mr. Francis Bacon or M. Giacometti appear to have given, and most of the artists here are of this kind, selecting just so much of the visual world as suits the needs of their imagination. But there are also some more genuine realists whose art involves a patient inspection of the subject. A nude by the French artist Francis Gruber is painted with real, even though harsh and uncompromising, feeling. By M. Paul Rebeyrolle there is a large reclining nude which is a most impressive performance and the most ambitious picture here; it is Possible that as yet the artist is too inexperienced to be able to sustain so weighty and massive a conception of the forms and that certain passages are in consequence rather empty. Two pictures by M. Masson could hardly be considered realist if they were by anyone else; they are slight, evocative, painted with the most graceful economy of means. Other artists represented are Mr. Graham Sutherland, M. Balthus, Miss Elinor Bellingham-Smith, Mr. John Minton, and M. André Minaux.

 

 

 

 

  REALISM IN PAINTING

 

 

                 ANTICIPATING THE FUTURE

 

 

ENTERTAINMENTS | THE TIMES | WEDNESDAY AUGUST 6 1952

 

A good many people now seem to think that a revival of realism is on the way, and the Institute of Contemporary Arts, a body whose aim, in the words of its chairman, Mr. Herbert Read, is to bring into existence the art of the future, anticipated this a month or so ago by getting up an exhibition of recent trends in realist painting.

This was very definitely an anticipation and scarcely even an early notification of the existence of such a trend; it was a completely miscellaneous collection which included works that could have been and in some instances were produced 20 or more years ago, as well as works that were only realistic in the sense that they were not completely abstract or surrealist. Only in the most tenuous or remote way, for example, could the paintings of Andre Masson be said to spring from anything that could have actually been seen by the painter, while to call Mr. Francis Bacon’s disquieting fantasies realist is to stretch the term far beyond the point at which it ceases to be useful.

What the exhibition did no doubt record was a general impression among the people who have admired abstract painting for a long while that it is time there was a change. This is interesting, but so far it is confined to critics and amateurs of no great importance; it would be much more significant if such a feeling became widespread among painters and if they began to act on it. But a large exhibition of the work of some 50 of the younger painters of the school of Paris. arranged by the Arts Council at the New Burlington Galleries, suggests that if this is happening at all, it is on a very small scale. There is M. Rebeyrolle, a painter still in his early twenties who had a considerable success in London when a few of his pictures were recently shown at the Arcade Gallery, and there are one or two others, but for the most part these younger artists, nearly all under 40, are still practising a high degree of abstraction or at any rate painting out of their heads rather than from nature.

With very few exceptions these are artists of great ability, with all the assurance and command of technique that is still to be learned in Paris much more readily than anywhere else; there is certainly nowhere else in the world where so many large compositions as are shown here could be produced with so little fumbling or failure of nerve.

But at the same time this school has certainly brought abstraction, or near abstraction. to the Point where it is apt to become, except in the hands of an artist of exceptional vitality, a rather sterile exercise. The exhibition does, in fact, help to explain why people who like new kinds of art now feel that contemporary French painting is really not quite new enough. But it is evidently not as easy as might be thought for the modem painter to go back to nature. This is by no means the first time that advanced French artists have felt that it was time for a change and have sought it in realism.

In 1930 there was neo-humanism, with Christian Berard as the leader of what turned out to be a very small movement. In 1935 there was the group which called itself “Forces Nouvelles” and practised a dry and ascetic realism which had little or no effect on the main currents of painting in Paris. And since the war there have been other returns to reality, like the paintings of Balthus, which aroused some interest at the time but have very little influence on the run of painters. The difficulty, one suspects, is that while it may be easy to return to realism it is extraordinarily difficult to make this look like a new kind of realism; only an artist with a highly original vision, and then only after years spent in the development of an individual style, can be expected to find, as Monet and Cézanne did, something new in nature.

A genuine return to realism would in fact mean abandoning, at any rate for some years, any attempt to bring into existence the art of the future, and this, though highly desirable, would be like having a tooth drawn to a good many people.

 

 

 

 

MR. BACON’S NEW PAINTINGS

 

 

 

                                     AFRICAN ANIMALS

 

 

ENTERTAINMENTS | THE TIMES | TUESDAY DECEMBER 16 1952    

 

Mr. Francis Bacon has recently made two journeys to Africa, and in view of what his appalling imagination has previously made of the European scene there is reason to be thankful that what he has discovered in the dark continent is no worse than it is. His travels have, in fact, directed his attention, in five out of the seven very large canvases he is now showing at the Hanover Gallery, towards animals.

His view of a rhinoceros forlorn and blundering in the midst of a desolate waste, of sand and scrub does, of course, suggest a certain amount of misery, his elephant wading in a lake below an enormous cliff may frighten by its suggestion of the immensity of the land, and his dogs undoubtedly suggest the jackal thieving in the city. But such things can be borne with equanimity after the clinical atrocities half-veiled by transparent curtains, the mutilations, the series of ponderous giants, screaming, and all the other images of the modern world of perverted science that Mr. Bacon has devised.

Since for once it is possible to look at Mr. Bacons work without being in a state of shock this might be thought an opportunity to examine his purely artistic gifts more critically than could have been done before. But even now his methods of painting seem so bizarre and his conceptions of design so idiosyncratic that it is difficult to apply any normal standard even to these milder works. Here he paints in a rather summary fashion in very dry and crumbling oils, with a texture rather like that of chalk, on unprimed canvas of which large areas are left untouched, in much the same way as a great deal of paper is usually left uncovered in a pencil drawing.

Thus the first impression that Mr. Bacon has an unusual power of composing on a large scale is contradicted by e reflection that he may, after all, be producing a greatly enlarged sketch rather than a fully worked out design. There is a curious suggestion of photographic illusionism in these paintings: in their dramatic effects, in the emphatically instantaneous poses of his figures and animals, and above all in the treatment of light one is forcibly reminded of a still from a film. And perhaps Mr. Bacons imagination is really that of a film producer rather than of a painter; his more monstrous fantasies seem to require the cinemas extension in time, as well as the extension in space which makes his huge canvases resemble the screen in the theatre, in order to be assured of their full effect.

 

 

 

 

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 Rembrandts, 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 Rembrandts 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.

 

 

 

             TATE GALLERY

 

 

                                EXHIBITION OF RECENT

                                         ACQUISITIONS

 

 

THE ART | THE LISTENER | WEDNESDAY JULY 29 1953

 

Two galleries at the Tate Gallery are at present hung with the acquisitions made in the last three or four years to its three collections, that of British painting, that of modern foreign painting, and that, of modern sculpture. both British and foreign. This exhibition serves two purposes: it includes several new purchases and gifts that have not been shown in the gallery before and it also gives an idea of 'how active the gallery has lately been and in what way.

The newest acquisitions are particularly interesting; they include the most important work, a recumbent figure, in Signor Manzu’s recent London exhibition, a still life from M. Minaux’s London exhibition, not perhaps as exciting as his paintings of the carcasses of animals but still a most serious and even impressive work, and a beautiful landscape by Monet.

The fauve Derain bought under the terms of the Chantrey Bequest, a pair of Elizabethan portraits by George Gower which were purchased this year, the largest known portrait group by Constable, two paintings by Signor Giacometti, three of the most horrifying pictures that Mr. Francis Bacon has ever painted, perhaps the best of Mr. Lucian Freud’s portraits, Professor Coldstream’s portrait of Mrs. Spender, and an excellent collage by Juan Gris attest the variety of the trustees’ inclinations.

 

 


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.

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

LEGER SINCE 1905

 

 

 

Museum Opens Major Show of His Work

   — Late Kuniy0shis Francis Bacon  

 

 

By HOWARD DEVREE | ART | THE NEW YORK TIMES | SUNDAY, OCTOBER 25 1953

 

 

Bizarre

A bakers dozen paintings by the much-discussed British artist, Francis Bacon, have gone on view at the Durlacher Gallery. Five of eight studies for a portrait of a Cardinal take up one roomrobed half figures against a logelike gold framework, one Grecoish, one smiling, one as if giving an edict, one thinking and one in dramatic pose. Seven of the other eight big canvases are also disarmingly styled studies,large as they arethree of them for a portrait of a sketchily presented and ostensibly bored young man.

The Study of a Figure in a Room might be an ape exercising on a subway turnstile and is more simian than the study of a caged baboon in a tree. Even a figure in a landscape more than suggests a nature man. In Study of the Sphynx the sphynx is, like Cleopatras in the Shaw play, a little one and rather meditative. Bacon obviously is a highly knowledgeable painter who concentrates on sinister effects obtained partly through not pushing realization far. Whether this primarily academic work is more novel and startling than intrinsically impressive is the question.

 

 

 

 

 

Mr. Francis Bacons New Paintings

 

 

 

                        EXTRAORDINARY USE OF PHOTOGRAPHS

 

 

THE ARTS | 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.

 

 

 


Some More London Exhibitions

 

 

 

By ANDREW FORGE | ART | THE LISTENER | THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 26 1953

 

 

FRANCIS BACON, because he paints violent subjects and uses photographs, thin, sketchy paint, unprimed canvas, and is indifferent to the most respected pictorial conventions of this century, runs the continual risk of being called a sensationalist. Can a serious picture really be painted of a man bouncing and roaring on a bed? one wonders? But it is a question which can only reasonably be asked where there is, in  a painting, evident division of purpose.

Most of us are used to looking at painting whose values can in some way be separated from their subject matter; and most contemporaries are coy about being of anything; indeed, they make it clear that their imagery is not the central matter of their pictures. But if there is one single positive quality which we can point to in the pictures which Bacon is now showing at the Beaux Arts Gallery, is their wholeness. One is affected by the whole picture and on cannot say now it is this which is exciting and now it is that. Everything is in the paint: paint is image and paint is form. The levels upon which the painting works are so tightly knit that one cannot unravel them. One cannot always name the image until one calls it paint. For this reason it is beside the point to harp on the nature of Bacons subject mater, as if the pictures were no ore than particularly morbid illustrations. Their meaning is untranslatable because it resides in the paintings themselves. Its perception is simultaneous with the perception of the form. If this were not so, they would be sentimental. Some of the best pictures here are too thin. There is not enough of them. But the best, the triple head, the naked man, the man eating meat, have personalities like bulls. Their wholeness is such that words like dignity enter ones mind without any sense of paradox.

 

 

 

 

APPARITIONS OF EVIL

 

 

    MR. FRANCIS BACONS NEW PAINTINGS

 

 

 

THE ARTS | THE TIMES | MONDAY JUNE 14 1954

 

After steadying the nerves for whatever new rabbit with myxomatosis Mr. Francis Bacon may pull out of his top-hat, it is a comfort, though perhaps also a disappointment, to find that what he has to show us this time is a shade less alarming than usual.

At the Hanover Gallery he has eight large pictures, six of them variants of the same theme, an apparition of a well-dressed, powerful man in a shadowy but expensive-looking office. This phantom might be a politician, possibly American, a great technocrat, or some other representative of modem power; almost certainly he is intended to be a most evil presence. As is necessary in every séance there are dark curtains and very little light; the prevailing colour of the pictures, which are painted as usual on the wrong side of the canvas, is what tailors call midnight blue and against this the head and hands, in a chalky pink, gleam with unnatural pallor. The features have suffered that disintegration which is one of Mr. Bacon’s favourite devices; here the paint has been allowed to run down the canvas and the effect is as if the ectoplasm was just beginning to dissolve. The mystery is enhanced by the fact that all the pictures are glazed so that their dark backgrounds act as mirrors; but if one peers closely, deter- mined to submit the medium to the most stringent tests, it can be seen that the figure disappears completely at about the waistline; in one or two of the pictures it seems, in fact. to be so incorporeal that it is actually intersected at this point by the flat top of a desk.

The other two pictures represent a dog on a pavement, with the grating of a gutter in the foreground this is the most coherent and also the best painted of the new works and the Sphinx, with a section of the desert and various ruins around it, but, for some reason that one can hardly hope to fathom, a background which closely resembles the apartment in the six paintings of a man.

There may well be a fine dividing line between wilful mystification and the workings of an imagination which should not be subjected to prosaic questioning. And here the line, one may suspect, is so fine that no two reactions to these pictures will be the same; whether one decides that this is a bogy or a ghost must depend on the mood of the moment and the precise degree to which the spectator is, to use the accepted term, a psychic type.

 

 


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 figures 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. Bacons '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. Bacons 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. Bacons 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     

 

 

 


       BEAUX ARTS GALLERY

 

 

   STUDIES OF MOVEMENT BY

           MR. WIRTH-MILLER

 

 

THE ARTS | THE TIMES | THURSDAY NOVEMBER 4 1954

 

Mr. Denis Wirth-Miller has painted 14 studies of a dog in movement, all on the wrong side of the canvas and with a number of other features and stylistic devices which quite plainly derive from Mr. Francis Bacons pictures. But these paintings, which are exhibited at the Beaux Arts Gallery, Bruton Place, are not school pictures; the dog has been carefully studied as a subject in its own right, not merely as a symbol or as an inhabitant of Mr. Bacon's disquieting universe, and its characteristic movements have been most accurately observed.

Whether or no he has had the help of photographs for some of the more difficult poses there can be no doubt that Mr. Wirth-Miller is an accomplished draughtsman and perhaps this would be even more evident if he had not used some of the more curious expedients to which Mr. Bacon has from time to time resorted. No doubt the device of blurring some part of the image with flickering lines, in much the same way as when a television set goes wrong, has the advantage of attracting the eye to the picture plane and avoiding any too emphatic suggestion of solidity in the forms. But here, in the work of so scrupulous and straightforward a draughtsman; it is bound to seem an arbitrary and artificial expedient; it might well be better to accept without more ado the limitations of the conscientious realism which it seems to be Mr. Wirth-Milers nature to practise.

At the same gallery there is a fairly large collection of drawings by Gaudier-Brzeska, together with a few pieces of sculpture. It is interesting to find among many of the familiar and extremely able drawings of nudes one-or two studies, remarkable for their sharp observation of character, of everyday people in the street.

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

     

        Kate Munday at the ICA in Piccadilly, London, looks at a Francis Bacon painting prior to an exhibition on 18th January 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.

 


     

                                Francis Bacon at the first revived Soho Fair in 1955  

 

                               

 

                     Obituary

 

                  MR. PETER

                    WATSON

 

 

                                  MODERN PATRON

                                    OF ART

 

 

 

OBITUARIES | THE TIMES | SATURDAY MAY 5 1956 

 

Mr. Victor William Watson, generally known as Peter Watson, who was found dead in his bath at his home in London on Thursday, was one of the founders of the Institute of Contemporary Arts. He was 48.

The younger son of the late Sir George Watson he was educated at Eton and Oxford. After leaving the university he lived first in London, and then until 1939 in Paris. At the outbreak of the war he founded, with Mr. Cyril Connolly and Mr. Stephen Spender, co-editors, the magazine Horizon, in which he was responsible for the articles on art. In 1948 he was a founder of the Institute of Contemporary Arts, of which he remained until his death a member of the managing committee.

While he was still an undergraduate he bought his first Picasso drawing, and he soon became well known as a collector of modem paintings. His taste was moulded in Paris, where he was a discriminating supporter of artists such as Salvador Dali, in his beginnings, Alberto Giacometti throughout his years of struggle, as well as the famous artists of the time. He also discovered the early work of many English contemporaries, preferring the abstract and the poetic painters to the realistic. The early Graham Sutherland Entrance to a Lane, now in the Tate Gallery, bears witness to the discrimination with which he selected the earliest works of contemporaries.

Besides Sutherland, Lucian Freud, John Craxton and Francis Bacon were among many others who in their youth received his encouragement. It would be wrong to think of Watson simply as someone who had a collection. Indeed, even in his own rooms one never saw more than a score of pictures. He was, rather, an animator who lent his encouragement and gave his support wherever he saw genius or talent. He was one of those very rare people whose faith is in the creative genius of others.

More even than this, he was a friend who could value non-geniuses as well as geniuses for their human qualities. His early death means that one of the very few people who bring to work and to other people the passion of personal choice—and have the time and means endlessly to encourage artists—is lost to us. He was an individualist who everywhere brought to light individual values; and to his many friends who realized his uniqueness it will seem that no one can replace him.

He was unmarried.

 

 

 

 

NEO-EXPRESSIONISTIC SCULPTURE

 

 

 MRS LOUISE HUTCHINSON’S PORTRAIT BUSTS

 

 

 

THE ARTS | THE TIMES | THURSDAY MAY 17 1956  

 

The sculptures by Mrs. Louise Hutchinson now on view at the Beaux Art Gallery in Bruton Place might be conveniently, and bot unreasonably, described as neo-expressionistic; they illustrate that style, more widely adopted on the Continent than in this country, in which traces of 'the influence of Daumier, Constantin, Meunier, and of course Rodin, are mingled and the interest of which may depend unduly on the fortuitous charms of the maquette.

The risk of over-interpretation inherent in this manner is evident in Mrs. Hutchinsons King Lear, included in this exhibition. It is a risk, however, which, in her. portrait busts, the artist has largely succeeded in eluding. That she possesses considerable powers as a portraitist is clear from the admirable bust of Sir Herbert Read, which is also on view at the Beaux Arts Gallery; but on the whole these powers would appear to be potential rather than realized, and both insight and sympathy are, if only relatively speaking, deficient in the remainder of the portraits in this selection.

The charm of the paintings by Mr. Denis Wirth-Miller on view at the same gallery may be ascribed in part to the influence of Mr. Francis Bacon and in part, perhaps, to that of the camera. At first sight, Mr. Millers landscapes have the appearance of blown-up or enlarged stills from some aesthetically ambitious travelogue. Closer inspection reveals a calculated variety of texture which, if it was not a salutary corrective, might be criticized as a technical affectation.

The abiding impression left by these paintings is one, in the best sense of the word, of prettiness. Mr. Wirth-Miller has expressed the character of the estuary marshes, which are the subject of these paintings, with Whistlerian taste. The influence of Mr. Francis Bacon remains undeniable, but Mr. Wirth-Miller has turned it to unexpected account, and the imputation of pastiche would be unwarrantable.

Mr. John Wards paintings and drawings at the Trafford Gallery, 119, Mount Street, are pretty in a different way. His subject matter is mainly topographical, and the more facile examples of his work on view in this gallery are adequate holiday souvenirs in the Vogue-Harpers Bazaar manner. In a less dashing and perhaps also a less hurried vein, his views of Rome or Oxford are more pleasantly evocative, and display a capacity for draughtsmanship which could profitably be cultivated with less reserve.

 

 

 

 

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, hard-headed 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.

3 From The Hollow Men by T. S. Eliot.

 

 

 

    

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

 

 

 

 

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 Velázquez's 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.

 

 

 

      

                Francis Bacon in 1957 living at 9, Overstrand Mansions, Prince of Wales Drive, Battersea, London, SW11.   Photograph © Douglas Glass

 

 


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 screamsilent 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.

 

 

 

Bacon v. van Gogh 

 

 

 

BY BASIL TAYLOR | CONTEMPORARY ARTS | THE SPECTATOR | APRIL 5, 1957  

 

FRANCIS BACON has previously derived pictures from the Velasquez portrait of Innocent X and from the death mask of William Blake; his present exhibition at the Hanover Gallery includes a sequence of works inspired, apparently, by van Gogh's picture of himself on the road to Tarascon. This experience has transformed Bacon's palette, bringing a new brightness, but whereas the colour of the original communicates an intense warmth and gives the impression of a figure happily wrapped by his surroundings, here the pure colour communicates a sense of cold loneliness. The prototype has also provoked a sort of parody of its handling; the very modern turbulence of the handwriting reminds us that van 'Gogh has been the most important source of the rough surfaces which are now so oppressively fashionable. Von Gogh was the very epitome of the autobiographical artist who transforms every experience into the terms of his own developing personality, but his legend is liable to obscure the fact that the force and energy of his work come from his constant preoccupation with pictorial problems, that the pictures do not so much convey the stresses and antagonisms within himself as bring that struggle to a point of resolution and clarity. Bacon looked at the Velasquez as a spectator discovering what only the passage of centuries and historical differences could inspire and left out what is most impressive in this as in all great portraits, the disturbing contact with the imaged presence of a human creature; Velasquez was a great biographer. ,Bacon, like van Gogh, is an autobiographer and like him he paints with a naive immediacy, but whereas the intensity of the latter emerges from a fight to balance feeling, perception and method, Bacon, as the author of the journal of a disturbed man, is simply obsessed by the need to get certain images on to canvas. Some of the pictures here which rehearse earlier subjects have been painted, one feels, too late, others like the van Gogh series too early; they seem to be the expedients through which the experience has been externalised. All of them are obscure and their success with those spectators who can respond to them must be as personal as their secret origins. If one does not respond automatically to their imagery, the pictures are likely to seem a dilution of significant experience rather than an eloquent projection of it.

One reason for this, perhaps, is that these are private pictures built to a public scale. Here and there in the large expanses of canvas are fragments in which the intensity has been snared and kept, surrounded by large areas ineloquently filled in. Intensity of experiencesee Cezanne as well as van Goghmust be matched by an exceptional creative stamina. And so, as always in the past, I have admired those fragments, a loving dog, bodies swathed in grass, where the alliance between feeling, object and paint has been sealed.

BASIL TAYLOR

 

 


 

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

 

 

 

         

              Francis Bacon with Ahmed Yacoubi, Tangier, in the summer of 1957.

 

 

 

 

 

A Critics Choice of Pictures

 

 

 

 

THE ARTS | THE TIMES | THURSDAY JULY 17 1958

 

Arranging exhibitions, writes Mr. David Sylvester about his anthology of painting and sculpture, the fourth in the Critic’s Choice series, at Messrs. Tooth’s, 31, Bruton Street, is a much more satisfactory form of art criticism, it seems to me, than writing about them. Good as his word, he refrains from making an apologia in the catalogue, and, having stated succinctly what his two rooms stand for, he throws the ball to us.

The effect is disconcerting insofar as Mr. Sylvester’s chosen artists seem, in more than one instance, to be unworthily represented. Neither Mr. Francis Bacon nor Mr. Alan Davie is shown in his best form. Mr. Roger Hiltons excursions into a new range of shapes and colours appear, at least in this context, to have lost the robustness that was evident at the I.C.A. a few months ago, and Mr. Kenneth Armitages Figure lying on its side is one of those occasions when a quaintness in the conception over-shadows this sculptor’s more serious and interesting pretensions.

But more to the point than such incidental disappointments is the critical attitude reflected in the exhibition as a whole. Here a central predicament seems to communicate itself in an uneasy grouping. The predicament is that of the critic bound by the terms of the exhibition to show living British artists who is yet anxious to set standards of reference which are international.

For whether we like it or not, the fact can scarcely be denied that the mainstream, as Mr. Sylvester calls it, of artistic endeavour runs to-day through abstraction and expressionism-not necessarily, though usually, in conjunction. Nor can it easily be denied, as Mr. Sylvester again implies, that British artists do not readily belong to the mainstream.

Abstraction and expressionism therefore set the tone of the selection, particularly in the second room. But in thus endeavouring to lay the old ghost of British provincialism in these matters, Mr. Sylvester almost seems unwittingly to have reinvoked it.

For compared in imagination with a selection along the same lines of French or American artists, the room which contains the work of Mr. Hilton, Mr. Moynihan, Mr. Davie, and Mr. Auerbach lacks, most notably, the fluent professionalism and ease of expression which would distinguish the other, and has replaced these qualities with a sort of stumbling sincerity which can encompass a fine aesthetic sensibility but rarely the entire conviction that it speaks in native and not adopted accents.

It is, therefore, perhaps on the grounds that intentions rather than achievements are being honoured that one must understand the inclusion—otherwise almost inexplicable—of the dotted brown paintings of Mr. Frank Auerbach.

That the field of selection is in any case narrow is indicated by the reappearance both of Mr. Davie and Mr. Victor Pasmore, who figured in Sir Herbert Read’s anthology two years ago when the accent was again on abstract art.

Mr. Moynihan has been re-recruited to the cause since then, and his delicate manipulations of colour could be expected to earn a place. But the most wholly successful single item in this part of the exhibition is surely the richly encrusted, monstrously alive sculpture by Mr. Eduardo Paolozzi.

The four paintings of nudes by Professor Coldstream, though illustrative, along with the work of Mr. Pasmore and Mr. Bacon, of Mr. Sylvesters recognition of an individualistic, idiosyncratic vein that is peculiarly English, in fact stand aloof from all their neighbours. As in many another work of strictly classical aims, the discipline and effect of these Paintings, traceable in the undisguised marks of measurement about the figures, conceal beneath a first impression of cold, academic pedantry a feeling for the monumental no less weighty for being delicately precise, and an awareness of the quick, living flesh no less sensual for being controlled.

 

 

 

 

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