Francis Bacon News

 

                                                                                                                                                         

                                                                                                                                                 2018-2020

 

 

 

 

Sex, violence and death rule in MFAH’s Francis Bacon show

 

 

 

 

MOLLY GLENTZER | ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT | ART & EXHIBITS | HOUSTON CHRONICLE | FEBRUARY 22, 2020   

 

No painter of the 20th century depicted violence, male sex and death as consistently and compellingly as Francis Bacon.

So, there’s a parental advisory coupled with praise for “Francis Bacon: Late Paintings.” After a successful run last fall at Paris’ Centre Pompidou, the show opens Sunday the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the only U.S. venue.

Seven of the profoundly influential artist’s signature triptychs are scattered through five spacious galleries, among 20 other large canvases and a dozen or so small portraits whose distorted figures sometimes appear to be plucked from a horror show’s hall of mirrors.

During a preview, French curator Didier Ottinger said Bacon’s late works have long been under-appreciated even in Paris, where several generations of viewers have grown up with them. In Parus, Ottinger examined how stark-minded literature and philosophy influenced the artist’s final two decades. Bacon left behind a library of more than 1,200 books.

MFAH director Gary Tinterow and curator Alison de Lima Greene take a more thematic approach. It makes sense. Bacon died in 1992, in his early 80s, but this is his first Houston exhibition.

Tinterow said themes that always drove Bacon merged after his muse George Dyer committed suicide in 1971. “But something else happened,” he said. Tinterow sees in these works a “dexterity, facility and mental clarity” that could only have evolved through 25 or 30 years of painting, epitomizing what the artist had always wanted to achieve.

“Bacon didn’t want you to think about his pictures. He wanted you to feel them,” Tinterow said.

People say similar things about Mark Rothko, but Bacon wasn’t looking for the sublime — quite the opposite — and he found Abstract Expressionism sorely lacking. “He would look at Rothko’s paintings in dismay, missing the human element, the figure he felt was so important to the human story of art,” Greene said.

One of the ironies of the Houston show is that people who haven’t spent much time with Bacon’s large canvases might see them as a marriage of styles woven deeply into the city’s visual DNA: They combine elements of Surrealism with an emotional intensity akin to Rothko’s.

And yet they are neither. The charismatic Bacon liked to say his paintings had no equals. Certainly, at the time he began working, when homosexuality was still illegal, no one was depicting nude males as aggressively. That made his work scandalous and sensational.

By painting the joy of male sexuality, Greene said, “he broke every rule of painting in good society in the 1950s. We look at it with a knowing eye, but it was radical then. Critics never mentioned that he was queer; now that’s at the core of understanding the work.”

But Bacon’s work has always resonated widely because it also is about universal truths. He saw man as a completely futile being, playing out a game without reason. His paintings roil with what Bacon described as “exhilarated despair.” Without being “illustrational,” as he put it, he worms his way into the poignant, existential essence of his amorphous figures.

 

Kicked out of the family

Born in Dublin to English parents, Bacon was the second of five children. His family lived in Ireland to raise racehorses but moved back to London during World War I; his father was an army officer. He was never happy at home. And when Bacon was 16, his father banished him for wearing his mother’s underwear. He experienced the decadent side of Berlin with an older family friend who became his first serious lover early in 1927, then discovered Picasso at a gallery in Paris and began drawing and painting — a period when he also designed modern furniture.

Bacon set up his first studio in London in 1929, and his visual vocabulary was coalescing by the 1940s, drawing on icongraphy from Old Master paintings (Velázquez and Goya among them, and images of crucifixions and slaughter) as well as Picasso, Van Gogh and others; film noir (an image of a screaming nurse from Sergei Eisenstein’s “Battleship Potemkin” was a favorite); and the sequential photographs of Eadweard Muybridge’s nude wrestlers in motion.

Bacon’s first concern was aesthetics.

Importantly, he worked from photographs and reproductions, preferably damaged ones. Even when he was painting a portrait, he worked from photographs by his friend John Deakin because that freed him up to create. He wasn’t repainting the thing itself; he was painting the sensations he absorbed from it — using an image of the thing, moderated by the passage of time. The frequent depictions of newspaper fragments, watches and shadows in his paintings also suggest time passing.

His figures all appear within or crossing the lines of compositional space boxes, a device Bacon said he used simply to see things better. For the viewer, the rectangles and lines imply psychic windows and doors.

Speaking to the critic David Sylvester in the 1970s, Bacon said he wasn’t trying to convey anything about the nature of man. “I’m just trying to make images as accurately off my nervous system as I can,” he said. “I don’t even know what half of them mean.”

The show’s first gallery introduces Bacon through dark, tortured-looking self-portraits and works that suggest what else is to come.

The somewhat buoyant 1970 “Triptych” features Bacon in one panel, Dyer in another — both perched on trapezes — and a central image of two nude figures wrestling. Across from that hangs the more colorful and sinister 1967 “Triptych Inspired by T.S. Eliot’s Poem, Sweeney Agonistes,” whose panels of wrestling figures flank an image of a murder scene on a train.

 

Double meanings

Then the eye goes to the also large, single-panel “Study for a Bullfight, No. 2,” from 1969, which relates to the final work of Bacon’s life that appears in the last gallery. His work always contains double meanings, Greene noted. Bullfight images reference ideas about secularized, staged sacrifice as well as the work of Picasso and Goya.

She pointed out a vignette in that painting based on a photograph of a Nazi rally. “He’d never talk about his work as political,” Greene said, “but he was a very engaged artist.” Images of Winston Churchill and the assassination of Leon Trotsky appear later in the show.

The seminal “In Memory of George Dyer” captures attention in another gallery, but really, every painting in the show is a highlight. Bacon’s beautifully creepy, late-life, biomorphic landscapes are especially surprising — hard to look at but impossible to ignore.

The clarity Tinterow spoke of becomes most apparent in the final galleries, where Bacon seems to be stripping more away, letting images float more freely within large fields of vivid color.

Greene pointed out 1978’s “Street Scene — Car in Distance.” It’s almost “his version of Rothko,” she said, “but … there’s this criticality, an immediacy that is very different. I’m not saying one is better than the other … but it’s fascinating that even in his 70s, he’s taking a polemical stand against what he sees as the false direction of modernism.”

“Study of a Bull,” the last painting of Bacon’s life, ends the show potently.

You could read it as a different kind of self-portrait, with all that a bull might symbolize evident in the smoky image that emerges in the canvas’ top left corner. The shadowy animal, behind a thin film of spray paint, is moving into bright whiteness, ready to take whatever is coming, or maybe charge.

The ailing Bacon knew what was coming for him. He rubbed dust from his studio floor into the paint.

 

 

 

     

                                      The 1971 triptych "In Memory of George Dyer" is among works in the show "Francis Bacon: Late Paintings," on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Feb. 22-May 25

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mayor says selling Leicester council's £20m Francis Bacon painting to fund affordable housing would be 'rather silly'

 

 

 

Liberal Democrat councillor keen on selling artwork after auction house gets in touch

 

 

 

BY DAN MARTIN | LEICESTER NEWS | LEICESTER CITY COUNCIL | LEICESTERSHIRE LIVE | 19 FEBRUARY 2020   

 

A major international auction house has offered to value a Francis Bacon painting owned by Leicester City Council, according to a councillor who thinks it should be sold off

Liberal Democrat Nigel Porter says Christie’s has been in touch with him after his suggestion that Francis Bacon’s Lying Figure No1 be disposed of and the money used to provide affordable housing.

Coun Porter said the painting, on display at the New Walk Museum and dating back to 1959, could be worth £20million but that auctioneers would come to the city and confirm a value.

He raised the matter again with Leicester mayor Sir Peter Soulsby at a recent council meeting.

Coun Porter said: “I have been approached by a major auction house – an internationally renowned auction house who have written to me personally who want to come to Leicester and do a valuation of it.

He asked if the city council had had it valued and what it was insured for.

Sir Peter said the council’s entire 5,400 work collection had been valued but added: “I don’t think it is appropriate to reveal in public what the insurance value is for each piece or any one piece and I don’t intend to do that.

Sir Peter said Coun Porter’s suggestion to sell the painting was ‘rather silly’.

The New Walk Museum is an Arts Council nationally accredited gallery but Sir Peter said selling paintings could put that status at risk.

He said: “We are bound by the conditions of accreditation (of the gallery) that means we do not sell our pieces just because it might be a daft idea from a particular member.”

Coun Porter said: “A lot of people don’t actually appreciate Bacon as a painter. It’s something that is certainly worth considering.”

Coun Patrick Kittering joked: “I would love to see Coun Porter, with the Francis Bacon tucked under his arm, turn up on an episode of BBC 2’s Flog It and see if he can get a valuation for it.”

Bacon died in 1992 and his works have been selling for huge sums.

In 2013 his Three Studies of Lucien Freud sold for a record $142.4m in New York. Another piece of his called Seated Figure sold for $40m in 2014.

 

A bon vivant Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon was an Irish-born British figurative painter known for his emotionally charged raw imagery and fixation on personal motifs.

Best known for his depictions of popes, crucifixions and portraits of close friends, his abstracted figures are typically isolated in geometrical cages which give them vague 3D depth, set against flat, nondescript background

Despite his existentialist and often bleak outlook, Bacon in person was charismatic, articulate, and well-read. A bon vivant, he spent his middle age eating, drinking and gambling in London's Soho with like-minded friends. including Lucian Freud.

Since his death in 1992, Bacon's reputation and market value have grown steadily, and his work is among the most acclaimed, expensive and sought-after.

In the late 1990s a number of major works, previously assumed destroyed, including early 1950s popes and 1960s portraits, re-emerged to set record prices at auction.

In 2013, his Three Studies of Lucian Freud set a world record as the most expensive piece of art sold at auction a whopping $142.4m.

 

 

    

                                                   Francis Bacon’s Lying Figure No1

 

 

 

 

A life of Freudian slips

 

 

 

The painter Lucian Freud was reckless everywhere, except in front of a canvas

 

 

 

BY ANDREW MARR | LONG READS | BOOKS | NEW STATESMAN | 18 FEBRUARY 2020   

 

This is a tremendous read. Anyone interested in British art needs it. It is also a profoundly odd, unusual book, jumping, crammed and staccato, as if the author is driving us through his story with one foot on the accelerator pedal and the other on the brake. There are unexpected turns  indeed, handbrake turns on almost every page, and a bewildering crowd of characters. But this is an intentional, inevitable part of William Feaver’s project.

Lucian Freud (non-coincidentally, a terrible driver) never wanted a biography published in his lifetime. Reading this, one sees why. But he spent many hours talking to Feaver who, from the 1970s onwards, accumulated a vast hoard of taped conversations. These form the backbone of his narrative. Thus, it comes close to a “curated autobiography”, with the painter’s voice and attitudes throbbing away throughout it.

Away from the canvas, Freud lived a life of spasmodic, instinctual, often reckless actions. Money came into his hands. He almost immediately chucked it away on horses. He saw women. He pursued them like a hunting dog. The consequences, whether children, abortions or collateral misery, passed him by. In its prose, this book spanning 1922-1968, the first part in a two-volume work mimics the swirling, hectic, barely considered nature of Freud’s life.

Below that there is a conventional structured story which Feaver tells fairly and lucidly: from the Berlin boyhood of wealthy Jews living under the Nazis, to rackety displacement to England and liberal boarding schools, followed by art college, brief wartime service in the Merchant Navy, travels through Europe after the war, and the long progress as Freud becomes a painter, his reputation more or less secure by the time the story ends in his mid-forties. Everywhere, always, “bad behaviour”.

So, what is the relationship between an extraordinary life and the extraordinary art? If you are a moralist, turn your back now. For those who knew him well, Freud could be a charismatic and lovable man. On the page, however, he comes across as thoroughly dislikeable a callous, rude and egotistical predator. Had he been born just a little later, he would have been shredded by the #MeToo movement. Grabbing and manhandling women; beating up rivals; spurning and insulting those closest to him, above all his mother; apparently enjoying the gratuitous humiliation of others. It’s a grim story.

Aged ten, Lucian and his family left their home in Berlin in September 1933 for England, after one relative had been badly beaten up by brownshirts. The family had sent money in advance, so arrived by no means destitute. Lucian’s father, the architect Ernst Freud, hid extra money in the leg of a circular table he was importing; the family’s first apartment was just off Piccadilly. Lucian’s grandfather Sigmund Freud did not get out of Austria until 1938. But long before he established himself in Hampstead, he was hugely famous in Britain; and the Freud surname was important throughout Lucian’s life, giving him an odd glamour as an adolescent, and encouraging facile analysis of his life and art.

Sexually, Freud was barely controllable. Perhaps there was something in the family paedophile allegations were made after his death about Clement, the brother he feuded with all his life. Breaking taboos, he would later paint his young teenage daughters naked. Were these not sexual, merely reflecting Freud’s interest in the unadorned human animal? Perhaps; yet his paintings of splayed, white, flung-down girls, with the artist’s gaze hawklike from above, are hard to look at. As this book makes clear, he wasn’t a good man to be married to.

He had countless partners; many love affairs, often beginning when he asked young women to pose; and two wives – Kitty Epstein, daughter of the sculptor Jacob; and Lady Caroline Blackwood, from the Guinness family (both sets of in-laws deeply distrusted Lucian). Fourteen children have been identified, though rumour has put the number much, much higher and it’s probable that he himself had only a vague idea of exactly how many offspring he produced.

Despite all that, he was clearly profoundly romantic and affected, particularly by his brief marriage to Caroline Blackwood. Unusually, she walked out on him, the rejection hurting him deeply. (It’s interesting that this reader, at least, punched the air reading of Freud ransacking London and Rome, desperately searching for her.) And it’s also fair to say that many women loved him for his vulnerabilities. These were real: the outsider migrant boy who never quite felt at home in Britain. Clement recalled that when they were at school in Dartington, “being insufficiently fluent in English to counter insults, he went for people: hit them, wrestled them to the ground, gave and got black eyes and bloody noses and I, who loved him a lot and had no other friends, stood on the perimeter of the fight crowd and cried…”

In some respects, Lucian Freud carried on giving and getting black eyes for the rest of his life. One friend later caught his mix of aggression and vulnerability: “He had another, equally disconcerting habit of glaring at you, and then looking swiftly down in sudden shyness. There were signs of greatness in him, and I wish that I had been as brave as he at the age of 23.”

Freud was determined to avoid hypocrisy and to live by instinct – as he wished. He was very censorious of those who lived otherwise. The epithet “disgusting” appears often in his description of others. Throughout his life, he seems to have had more fellow feeling with animals horses, hawks and dogs than people. This bright, alien gaze is key to his originality as an artist. He looks at our human flesh and vulnerability without overmuch pity, certainly no sentimentality, as if he comes from another planet.

Freud’s postwar London was a very different place. Shabbier by far than Paris, it was more violent, drunken, divided and in most respects more immoral than contemporary London. Paddington, where Freud based himself, was a no-go badlands kind of place. Soho was wild: there’s quite a story about Francis Bacon sucking off a comatose workman in front of the mildly surprised patrons of one drinking den. Freud himself was both a social astronaut and deep-sea diver, moving from the companionship of young thugs and thieves to the preening art world, and super-rich aristocratic and royal circles. Sometimes he was worrying about getting a tiara properly adjusted in a painting; at others, he armed himself with a Luger pistol to take out the rats, and was very nearly badly injured by the Kray brothers.

But below all of this, the real drama is always about the developing art. A beady, relentless gaze and a meticulous craft was there almost from the start. He always worked ferociously hard. Freud could have gone in so many different directions. The roads not taken include a potentially highly commercial Van Eyck-like modern northern realism; becoming the late star of English surrealism; and even a potentially lucrative career as a high society portraitist, a 20th century Van Dyck.

Instead, influenced by his friendship with the brilliant, paint-obsessed Francis Bacon, and driven to take a new direction after the collapse of his marriage to Caroline Blackwood, he started to layer and handle paint in an entirely new way.

It was a massive risk. Feaver, so sensitive about the painting, describes the new turn thus: “Working the paint, he tried a marbling touch, pressing the flesh, as it were, to establish the terrain of a complexion… He inched in effect towards greater freedom of application, a greater give.” From this came the glorious buttery slabs and manipulated slews of paint in the later work. Many of the critics hated the new direction, one describing a portrait of the time as transforming “the head into a soggy mass, like wet bread”.

Almost everything Freud later achieved came from this brave and solitary moment of internal drama. To read this book is to be reminded, also, about the surrounding pleased-with-itself weakness of the art world in Britain with which Freud had to cope. There were so many anaemic post-Romantics and dull surrealists beckoning on every side. By the time this book concludes, the full force of American abstract expressionism had not yet really hit these shores, and Freud and Bacon stood almost alone as two pinnacles of serious painting.

Much more so than France, the story of British art has been one of uneasy solitaries, rather than movements. Few have been as uneasy as Lucian Freud. His art remains so. Quite why, is revealed by this extraordinary book.

The Lives of Lucian Freud: Youth William Feaver Bloomsbury, 620pp, £35

 

 

 

 

Why we should let art speak for itself

 

 

Francis Bacon at the Centre Pompidou

 

 

 

The ‘Bacon en toutes lettres’ exhibition at Paris’ Centre Pompidou rightfully bestows the power of interpretation upon the viewer, asserts Marion Willingham.

 

 

MARION WILLINGHAM | REVIEW | VARSITY | CAMBRIDGE | FRIDAY FEBRUARY 14 2020   

 

Over Christmas, I took full advantage of the fact that EU citizens under 26 years of age are granted free access to many French museums (a privilege I already miss). I visited the Pompidou Centre in Paris, and spurned Frances own extensive artistic history in favour of an exhibition of one of my favourite artists: British painter Francis Bacon. Not only was the art on the walls impressive in quality and volume, but the exhibition's approach allowed me to think more, and this more freely than ever before.

Amongst the many paintings on display were small rooms where excerpts of books from Bacon’s personal library were playing in English and French. In contrast to many galleries and exhibitions, the walls were not littered with quotes from the artist, video interviews or articles; the literary extracts were the only insights into the artist’s process on display until a video at the very end. This approach may well have been a solution to the artists reluctance to give interviews, and his particularity about how they were conducted. Nevertheless, it was certainly refreshing to simply observe artwork and the artist’s potential sources of inspiration, rather than having an explanation of each piece spoon-fed to me as I looked at it.

It is indeed intimidating to draw a unique interpretation from a painting on a white wall, plucked from the time period in which it was created. However, the small amount of context provided by this exhibition seemed to me to be the perfect middle ground between an excess and a lack of information. For me, exploring art is about expanding my perspective on visual imagery and the world around me rather than memorising others explanations of artworks. If we are going to spend our time in the gallery reading a message out from a caption, does the artwork need to be on the wall at all? This is not to say that artists must create a clear (potentially crude) message such that everybody ‘understands’ their work, but rather that they can use their art to convey anything from a strong message to a subtle invocation. This power comes with the understanding that everybody’s interpretation will also be personal to them.

This perspective is particularly relevant to Bacon’s work. Given that Bacon was known to have relationships with men, it is easy to approach his work through the lens of sexuality. His depictions of raw (almost meat-like) dynamic figures, sometimes in pairs, could certainly invoke sexuality. This said, the raw dynamism could equally be an emphasis on the human body as an organic form, especially as Bacon produced many studies of the human body often in contrast with brightly coloured geometric backgrounds. Many others have thought that these depictions are Bacon’s way of expressing human vulnerability and existentialism (as it is thought Giacometti did with his long thin figures) and that Bacon’s screaming popes are symbols of existential dread. Hopefully it is clear that there is no one ‘correct’ explanation for these paintings, as it is no longer within the artist’s power to control what the works invoke for you.

As for art’s role in the contemporary world, the context is all around us: Brexit, LGBT History Month, the environmental crisis. Artists will have no difficulty portraying strong messages if they wish to do so. Take for example Banksy’s topical exhibit in the 2019 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, in which an ‘Arrivals from the EU’ customs gate is padlocked shut and says ‘KEEP OU’ while a characteristic rat attempts to break the padlock using a letter ‘T’. I do not think that artwork needs an accompanying 250 words of text in order to be understood. Perhaps curators should take a leaf out of the Pompidou Centre’s book and let art speak for itself.

 

 

    

                                    In Memory of George Dyer, 1971, by Francis Bacon

 

 

 

 

Sotheby's

 

 

CONTEMPORARY ART EVENING AUCTION

 


 

PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT EUROPEAN COLLECTION

 

 

LOT 23 | 11 FEBRUARY 2020 7:00 PM GMT | LONDON   

 

 

Francis Bacon 1909 - 1992

TURNING FIGURE

 

oil on canvas 
198 by 147.5 cm. 78 by 58 in.
Executed in 1963.

 

Estimate 6,000,000—8,000,000 GBP

LOT SOLD. 7,032,000 GBP

 

 

PROVENANCE

Marlborough Fine Art Ltd, London
Private Collection, London
Thomas Gibson Fine Art Ltd, London
Galerie Beyeler, Basel and Thomas Ammann Fine Art, Zurich (acquired from the above on 1 May 1985)
Acquired from the above by the present owner on 22 April 1986

 

 

EXHIBITED

London, Marlborough Fine Art Ltd, Francis Bacon: Recent Work, July—August 1963, n.p., no. 1 (text) and illustrated in colour (cover)
Hamburg, Kunstverein, 
Francis Bacon: Gemälde 1945–1964, January—February 1965, n.p., no. 47 (text)
Stockholm, Moderna Museet,
Francis Bacon: Målningar 1945–1964, February—April 1965, p. 31, no. 49, illustrated
Dublin, The Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Francis Bacon, April—May 1965, n.p., no. 46 (text) 
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Francis Bacon: Retrospektive, 12 June—12 September 1987, n.p., no. 15, illustrated in colour 

 

 

LITERATURE

John Russell, Francis Bacon, London 1964, p. 32, illustrated 
Ronald Alley, Francis Bacon, London 1964, n.p., no. 212, illustrated
Wieland Schmied, Francis Bacon: Commitment and Conflict, Munich 2006, p. 77, no. 89, illustrated  
Martin Harrison, Francis Bacon – New Studies: Centenary Essays, Göttingen 2009, p. 33, no. 16, illustrated and p. 110 (text) 
Katharina Günther, Francis Bacon: Metamorphoses, London 2011, p. 39, illustrated in colour 
Martin Hammer, Francis Bacon and Nazi Propaganda, London 2012, pp. 47 and 203 (text) and p. 202, illustrated in colour
Martin Harrison, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné, Volume III, 1958–1971, London 2016, p. 713, no. 63-03, illustrated in colour

 

CATALOGUE NOTES

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow 
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man, 
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only 
A heap of broken images 

Excerpt from The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot.

 

Painted in early 1963, Turning Figure by Francis Bacon illuminates the beginning of an extraordinary phase in the artist’s career, first signalled by the seminal 1962 triptych Three Studies for a Crucifixion (Collection of the Guggenheim Museum, New York). This stage in Bacon’s oeuvre is marked both by personal tragedy and critical success; only six months prior to the execution of Turning Figure, Bacon’s first major institutional retrospective opened at the Tate Gallery, the preview of which coincided with the death of his first great – yet profoundly tumultuous – love and muse: Peter Lacy. Furthermore, Bacon’s relocation to 7 Reece Mews in 1961 – the house and studio he would retain for the rest of his life – helped end the widely cited ‘transitional’ period in Bacon’s work of the mid-late 1950s. Indeed, the paintings created at his South Kensington Mews house heralded the best work of Bacon’s career; from 1962 onwards, his pictures demonstrate greater assurance, resolution, and simplicity. This amplified level of invention is successfully illustrated in Turning Figure via a compositional matrix that imparts a sophisticated figure/ground relationship. As the final work in a loosely affiliated series that Bacon had begun in 1959, in which anonymous and contorted figures are depicted variously lying or standing, for example Two Figures of 1961 (The Estate of Francis Bacon Collection), the present work possesses an elevated degree of compositional ingenuity and deep pictorial allusion.

As with Francis Bacon’s great paintings, Turning Figure forces the viewer to confront the unadorned truth of the artist’s principal subject: the human animal. There is something sordid about the fleshy twist of this figure’s corporeality that demands the viewer acknowledge rather than repudiate the darker undercurrent of humanity and its fetid, abject nature. Turning inside-out, a corkscrew of androgynous limbs, muscle and bone pirouettes upon a single point and casts its shadow. A luminescent green outlines the figure; a vibrant contrast to the shocking pink of the figure’s fleshy passages that stands out against the abyssal black of the background. Indeed, sharply delineated against bands of black, cream and bare canvas, this figure seems to project away from the work’s surface, an effect no doubt enhanced by the collaged central form. Cut from another canvas and seamlessly applied – a method Bacon had previously employed for his 1961 painting, Reclining Nude in the Tate’s collection – this form possesses a cleanness of line and stark definition that Bacon could not have achieved any other way. This chromatic and compositional device here emphasises the deft simplicity of Bacon’s execution whilst also hinting at concurrent developments in contemporary art, particularly those of Abstract Expressionism and Colour Field painting. Created only one year prior, Bacon’s Study for P.L. strongly suggests the influence of Mark Rothko via bands of blue, green and golden-yellow that form the painting’s backdrop. Less explicit perhaps, yet notable is the background of Turning Figure which calls to mind Rothko’s striking Untitled (White, Blacks, Grays on Maroon), also painted in 1963, currently housed in the collection of the Kunsthaus Zürich. Though Bacon would undoubtedly deny this connection and repudiate any such reading of his work, the settings and backdrops of his paintings from 1962 onwards display a striking planarity and vibrancy evocative of contemporaneous developments in abstract art.

Isolated against this pitch-black ground within an anonymous interior/exterior street scene, this figure is joined by what appears to be scattered newspaper littering the pavement; a presence that seems to creep around the corner and inch along the gutter as though in pursuit of the central form. It is this perspectival arrangement and enigmatic setting which serves to both strengthen and underpin the psychological and haunting intensity in Turning Figure; a painting that prefigures and anticipates much of the artist's later output, especially the urban landscapes of the 1980s such as Sand Dune (1983). However, as outlined by art historian Martin Hammer, the genesis of Bacon’s setting for the present work can be traced back to a photograph of wartime Rotterdam from a June 1940 issue of Picture Post (Martin Hammer, Francis Bacon and Nazi Propaganda, London 2012, p. 203). In this black and white image of a devastated street scene after a bombing raid, a man gazes upon the dead body of his daughter; her prone corpse appears foreshortened and almost indistinguishable from the rubble that surrounds her. In this respect, great importance has been assigned to the immense ‘archive’ of crumpled photographs, paint-splattered reproductions, and torn magazines that gathered in piles on the floor of Bacon’s studio. Following the artist’s death, the significance of these images – as the photo from the June 1940 issue of Picture Post attests – has been a revelatory tool in decoding some of the meaning behind, and origin of, Bacon’s extraordinary paintings. For an artist who detested working from life, the importance of this vast compendium of source material has since been widely unpacked and is particularly revealing when considering the impact of World War II on Bacon’s work.

Since the very beginning, as apparent in the 1944 masterpiece Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, Bacon’s work has been steeped in visual references to the Second World War. Indeed, Nazi Germany and the figure of Hitler can be conceived as one of the principle subjects of Bacon’s art, heavily influencing much of his 1940s and early '50s output in both atmosphere and visual cues. Nonetheless, while Bacon had always been attuned to the great atrocities of the Second World War, the immediate postwar cultural climate had been one of systemic amnesia over the war and its criminals. By the late 1950s, however, this fog had begun to lift: following a wave of belated court cases against former Nazis in 1958, the prosecution and execution of high-ranking Nazi officials, most notoriously Adolf Eichmann who was subsequently executed in 1962, received international attention in the media; a collective awakening that firmly established what was thereafter known as the Holocaust, acknowledging it as a singular phenomenon within the Second World War’s theatre of violence. That this was clearly at the forefront of Bacon’s mind is apparent in the swastika-brandishing figure of the right panel in Bacon’s 1962 Crucifixion and the war-time source of the present work’s composition.

Using it as a springboard therefore, Bacon abstracted the forms and figures of the Picture Post image to deliver a painting of enigmatic allusion and complex metaphor. While maintaining the essential geometry and perspective of his source image, Bacon has nonetheless transfigured the girl’s body into the rubble and detritus that surrounds her; her form becoming one with the squalid fallout of an urban bombsite. Watched over by a twisting corporeal form that bears little resemblance to the watchful father in the black and white photo, Bacon’s twisted figure and the resounding atmosphere of post-war squalor calls to mind the strained and pulverized forms of Alberto Giacometti’s works of 1936 onwards. For example, the bedraggled loping form of Giacometti's Le Chien (1951) looks equally at home next to Bacon’s painting as it does beside an evocation of the dismal streets of war-torn Paris. Herein, the impact of Giacometti on Bacon’s work cannot be overestimated. Having moved beyond abstraction in a truly innovative way, Giacometti is often thought of as the principal influence on the School of London painters, and Bacon himself once described the Swiss master as “the greatest living influence on my work” (Francis Bacon cited in: Daniel Farson, The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon, London 1994, p. 167). David Sylvester, whose interviews with Bacon are of canonical importance, also wrote extensively on Giacometti, focussing on the sense of loss and transience of life evoked by his paintings and sculptures. These evocations also permeate Bacon’s work as well, with existential crises providing the drive and recurring themes for his career.

The stark architecture, decontextualised street setting, and detritus which clusters in the gutter imbues Turning Figure with a palpable and weighty post-war atmosphere. In the catalogue raisonné of Bacon’s work, Martin Harrison pays particular attention to this detritus or trash, noting that Figure Turning foreshadows the appearance of newspapers and the use of Letraset in Bacon’s paintings from 1969 onwards. Where the inference of newspaper-like forms may call to mind the mess of the artist’s studio, it is in reference to the written word that this painting unlocks another important facet of Bacon’s practice: literature and poetry. As the exhibition ‘Bacon en toutes lettres’ at the Centre Pompidou has recently illuminated, the written word was held in equal regard by Bacon to that of photographic source material. Akin to the visual ephemera found in his studio, fragments of poetry and evocative cantos would "bring up images" and "open up valves of sensation" in exactly the same aleatory, associative, and chaotic way (Francis Bacon in conversation with David Sylvester in 1984, David Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, London, 2000, p. 236). Hugely inspired by the grand melodrama and pathos of Aeschylus, Greek tragedy, and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, Bacon's figures are imbued with an intense Dionysian abandon countered by the Apollonian calm interiors and isolated stages upon which his tragic dramas unfold. This can be traced as far back as the three Eumenides of his seminal 1944 triptych and carries through to the mythical grandeur of Triptych, 1976, a work centred on a complex musing and conflation of the Promethean and Oresteian myths. For Bacon, ancient myth presented the imaginative 'armature' upon which all kinds of sensations and feelings attuned to the violence of contemporary existence could be hung.

As a contemporaneous literary corollary to his paintings, T.S. Eliot's modern-day poetic recapitulation of classical mythology reverberates throughout Bacon’s work. The fragmentary and intensely concentrated emotive sensibility manifest in Eliot's Sweeney Agonistes and The Waste Land – literary works that would provide titles for two of Bacon's paintings in 1967 and 1982 respectively – find visual echoes and atmospheric redolence in Bacon’s grand theatre of distorted forms and enigmatic settings. According to Michael Peppiatt, when Bacon repeatedly claimed not to know where his images originated, he spoke of them materialising semi-consciously from the vast "memory traces" that had remained in his "grinding machine" – an analogy that Eliot himself had employed to define the "poet's mind" as a "receptacle for seizing and storing up numberless feelings, phrases, images, which remain there until all the particles which can unite to form a new compound are present together" (Francis Bacon and T.S. Eliot in: Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London 2008, p. 282). For Bacon, poetry and words powerfully provided a direct link to sensation, breeding images and unlocking the valves of feeling in equal measure to the gamut of photographs and visual ephemera at his disposal.

Tortured and isolated, the subject of Turning Figure reflects the existential crises that peppered Bacon’s career while the mulch of unidentifiable paper and trash mirrors the solace from those crises that he found in literature. The influence of Giacometti is also undeniable given the weighty post-war atmosphere and violent manipulation of the human form; a body distorted by the impact of war. As with all of Bacon’s paintings, what we are primarily confronted with here is a body that does not perform as we expect it to. As Brenda Marshall describes, this is “a body that oozes, shifts frantically, a body that has muscles distended into grotesque animality, a body that knows about the smears of slippery substances that swill over and around it, a body that is made of water and blood and excrescences from unfathomable interiors” (Brenda Marshall, ‘Francis Bacon, Trash and Complicity’ in: Martin Harrison, Ed., Francis Bacon: New Studies, Göttingen 2009, p. 209). The urgent immediacy and primal drive of Bacon’s work is in full evidence here. Unapologetic and strident in its representation and recapitulation of the human form and more broadly the human condition, Turning Figure represents a milestone in Bacon’s oeuvre, both for its position in his canon and for the quality of its execution.

 

 

      

                                                                                                                             Francis Bacon, Turning Figure, 1963

 

 

 

 

 

A Review of Francis Bacon: Books and Paintings at Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

 

 

MAYA ASHA McDONALD | REVIEW | ARTEVISTE | FEBRUARY 3, 2020

 

 

“The feelings of desperation and unhappiness are more useful to an artist than the feeling of contentment because desperation and unhappiness stretch your whole sensibility.

― Francis Bacon, artist

 

Books and Paintings. The title of the Francis Bacon exhibition at Centre Pompidou, Paris, is as simple as it is apropos. In choosing such a title, the show’s curator Didier Ottinger paints a clear line between the source material of Bacon’s extensive library and the paintings he produced; particularly during the last twenty years of his life. Rather than leaving the viewer to examine Bacon through the lens of his artistic influences, like Pablo Picasso and Diego Velázquez, this latest Pompidou exhibition the first exhibiting Bacon in twenty-three years challenges the viewer to experience Bacon’s florescent and macabre images within the context of the literary works that so consumed his thoughts.

Comprised of sixty works, including twelve large-scale triptychs, the exhibition showcases Bacon’s career between 1971-1992; arguably the artist’s most heralded period of creation and the peak of his popularity amongst the general public. Upon entering the exhibition, the viewer is transported by two pink and mauve triptychs back to Paris, 1971; a definitive juncture in time for both Bacon’s career and personal life.

In 1971, Bacon was preparing to exhibit at the Grand Palais in Paris - a striking show that would later crown Bacon as one of the twentieth century's most consequential artists. Sadly, as was too often the case in Bacon’s story, his good fortune was bookended by tragedy. In this instance, the sudden death of his lover, George Dyer, occurred on the eve of the opening of the Grand Palais retrospective, in the Parisian hotel room the two were sharing. Dyer was discovered by Bacon dead in the bathroom and the announcement of his death was delayed for two days as to not overshadow the opening of the Paris show. The traumatic event is depicted in Triptych May-June (1973), which confronts the viewer in the first exhibition space. Consequently, Ottinger’s curatorial choice to do so establishes a tortured mood and sets the stage for the remainder of the exhibition.

After being presented with Bacon’s complicated history with Paris, the Pompidou exhibition proceeds to take us on a journey through a series of staggered semi-rooms which chronicle the subsequent two decades of the artist’s career. These carefully curated corrals house Bacon’s mutilated figures adjacent to his personal copies of the literary works which in-part inspired them. Six books, worn from Bacon’s touch, dog-eared and note laden, hang in wall-mounted glass cases with a reverence that likens them to religious contact-relics.

Taken from Bacon’s expansive London studio library, the authors included are his personal favourites. Works by Aeschylus, T.S. Eliot, Joseph Conrad, Friedrich Nietzsche, Georges Bataille and Marcel Proust are displayed in smaller rooms where recordings of the works play on a loop in English and French. These short excerpts are compelling and memorable, like Conrad’s famous quote, “The horror! The horror!” As a result, the listener is met with some of the most iconic passages in literary history, which doubled as permanent fixtures in the dark corners of Bacon’s mind. Bacon famously told British art critic, David Sylvester, in a 1966 interview that he knew some of these most beloved texts “by heart.”

It is the inclusion of the physical copies of Bacon’s favoured books and the overall emphasis placed on their content, which elevates the exhibition out of the formulaic style so many retrospectives succumb to. Each book is situated beside a bay of Bacon’s masterpieces which it likely played a role in animating. Some references to the literature are evident in Bacon’s naming of certain works, like the jarring purple and green mass entitled, Triptych Inspired by T.S. Eliot’s ‘Sweeney Agonistes’ (1967). Others are deliberately ambiguous, as Bacon himself often was, about their genesis, but are placed nonetheless near pages imbued with a similar spirit.

The works on a whole reflect a shift in Bacon’s style, with his composition and colour choices becoming increasingly frenetic and bizarre. However, Bacon does return to dominating swaths of colour reminiscent of his early pieces in the 1940s. Executed with a sense of mania, Bacon’s distorted and violent figures are juxtaposed against the cheerfully coloured backgrounds; forming an unholy combination designed to entice and horrify. Tragic illusions born out of a heavy soul and a longing to connect with the pain of others.

With the likes of Aeschylus and Nietzsche as his fellow wounded sailors battling the currents of conventional society, Bacon illustrates the complex layers of conflicting emotions that unite all wayward souls. It is to Ottinger’s curatorial credit that we may all see the threads and feel the unease which connects these authors and the artist, whilst stretching our own sensibilitiee.

 

 

       

                                   Francis Bacon, Study for Bullfight No. 2, 1969

 

 

 

8 famous artists who darmatically destroyed their own artworks

 

 

We look at why John Baldessari burnt his art and baked cookies with the ashes, Francis Bacon slashed his best paintings, and Robert Rauschenberg erased a work by Willem de Kooning

 

 

LYDIA FIGES | ART & PHOTOGRAPHY | DAZED MAGAZINE | 28 JANUARY 2020

Francis Bacon

 

After Francis Bacon’s death in 1992, hundreds of destroyed canvases were found in his cluttered studio in South Kensington. In total, 100 slashed canvases were retrieved from his home.

Known for his masochistic tendencies and emotionally-charged works, the cycle of creation and destruction was central to Bacon’s torturous, creative process. He allegedly referred to his art as an ‘exorcism’ – a cathartic, painful release of raw emotion. And once described the violent application of his paint as “to do with an attempt to remake the violence of reality itself.”

One of the destroyed works found in his studio “Gorilla with Microphones” used his repeated motif of a glass box, within which a central figure was cut out, leaving two white, negated spaces

According to Jennifer Mundy, Bacon reflected that some of his destroyed works were among his best. He found it difficult to ‘finish’ a work, and “his canvases often became so clogged with pigment that they had to be discarded. He also routinely destroyed works he was not pleased with.

 

 

                          

               “I feel at home here in this chaos because the chaos suggests images to me.”        The chaotic room is now on display at Dublin City Gallery.

 

 

 

 

Narrating Tragedy in Francis Bacon’s Turning Figure

 

 

 

Sothebys upcoming Contemporary Art Evening Auction on 11 February features Francis Bacon's powerful work, Turning Figure.

 

 

FRANCIS BACON STORIES | CONTEMPORARY ART | SOTHEBY’S | JANUARY 17 2020

 

Painted in early 1963, Turning Figure by Francis Bacon illuminates the beginning of an extraordinary phase in the artist’s career, first signalled by the seminal 1962 triptych Three Studies for a Crucifixion (Collection of the Guggenheim Museum, New York).

This stage in Bacon’s oeuvre is marked both by personal tragedy and critical success; only six months prior to the execution of Turning Figure, Bacon’s first major institutional retrospective opened at the Tate Gallery, the preview of which coincided with the death of his first great – yet profoundly tumultuous – love and muse: Peter Lacy. Furthermore, Bacon’s relocation to 7 Reece Mews in 1961 – the house and studio he would retain for the rest of his life – helped end the widely cited ‘transitional’ period in Bacon’s work of the mid-late 1950s. Indeed, the paintings created at his South Kensington Mews house heralded the best work of Bacon’s career; from 1962 onwards, his pictures demonstrate greater assurance, resolution, and simplicity. This amplified level of invention is successfully illustrated in Turning Figure via a compositional matrix that imparts a sophisticated figure/ground relationship. As the final work in a loosely affiliated series that Bacon had begun in 1959, in which anonymous and contorted figures are depicted variously lying or standing, for example Two Figures of 1961 (The Estate of Francis Bacon Collection), the present work possesses an elevated degree of compositional ingenuity and deep pictorial allusion.

As with Francis Bacon’s great paintings, Turning Figure forces the viewer to confront the unadorned truth of the artist’s principal subject: the human animal. There is something sordid about the fleshy twist of this figure’s corporeality that demands the viewer acknowledge rather than repudiate the darker undercurrent of humanity and its fetid, abject nature. Turning inside-out, a corkscrew of androgynous limbs, muscle and bone pirouettes upon a single point and casts its shadow. A luminescent green outlines the figure; a vibrant contrast to the shocking pink of the figure’s fleshy passages that stands out against the abyssal black of the background. Indeed, sharply delineated against bands of black, cream and bare canvas, this figure seems to project away from the work’s surface, an effect no doubt enhanced by the collaged central form. Cut from another canvas and seamlessly applied – a method Bacon had previously employed for his 1961 painting Reclining Nude in the Tate’s collection – this form possesses a cleanness of line and stark definition that Bacon could not have achieved any other way.

 

 

     

                  FRANCIS BACON Turning Figure  ESTIMATE  £6,000,000–8,000,000

 

 

This chromatic and compositional device here emphasises the deft simplicity of Bacon’s execution whilst also hinting at concurrent developments in contemporary art, particularly those of Abstract Expressionism and Colour Field painting. Created only one year prior, Bacon’s Study for P.L. strongly suggests the influence of Mark Rothko via bands of blue, green and golden-yellow that form the painting’s backdrop. Less explicit perhaps, yet notable is the background of Turning Figure which calls to mind Rothko’s striking Untitled (White, Blacks, Grays on Maroon), also painted in 1963, currently housed in the collection of the Kunsthaus Zürich. Though Bacon would undoubtedly deny this connection and repudiate any such reading of his work, the settings and backdrops of his paintings from 1962 onwards display a striking planarity and vibrancy evocative of contemporaneous. developments in abstract art

Isolated against this pitch-black ground within an anonymous interior/exterior street scene, this figure is joined by what appears to be scattered newspaper littering the pavement; a presence that seems to creep around the corner and inch along the gutter as though in pursuit of the central form. It is this perspectival arrangement and enigmatic setting which serves to both strengthen and underpin the psychological and haunting intensity in Turning Figure; a painting that prefigures and anticipates much of the artist's later output, especially the urban landscapes of the 1980s such as Sand Dune (1983). However, as outlined by art historian Martin Hammer, the genesis of Bacon’s setting for the present work can be traced back to a photograph of wartime Rotterdam from a June 1940 issue of Picture Post (Martin Hammer, Francis Bacon and Nazi Propaganda).

In this black and white image of a devastated street scene after a bombing raid, a man gazes upon the dead body of his daughter; her prone corpse appears foreshortened and almost indistinguishable from the rubble that surrounds her. In this respect, great importance has been assigned to the immense ‘archive’ of crumpled photographs, paint-splattered reproductions, and torn magazines that gathered in piles on the floor of Bacon’s studio. Following the artist’s death, the significance of these images – as the photo from the June 1940 issue of Picture Post attests – has been a revelatory tool in decoding some of the meaning behind and origin of Bacon’s extraordinary paintings. For an artist who detested working from life, the immense significance of this vast compendium of source material has since been widely unpacked and is particularly revealing when considering the impact of World War II on Bacon’s work.

 

 

    

                                                   FRANCIS BACON Two Figures 1961  

 

 

Since the very beginning, as apparent in the 1944 masterpiece Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, Bacon’s work has been steeped in visual references to the Second World War. Indeed, Nazi Germany and the figure of Hitler can be conceived as one of the principle subjects of Bacon’s art, heavily influencing much of his 1950s output in both atmosphere and visual cues. Nonetheless, while Bacon had always been attuned to the great atrocities of the Second World War, the immediate postwar cultural climate had been one of systemic amnesia over the war and its criminals. By the late 1950s, however, this fog had begun to lift: following a wave of belated court cases against former Nazis in 1958, the prosecution and execution of high-ranking Nazi officials, most notoriously Adolf Eichmann who was subsequently executed in 1962, received international attention in the media; a collective awakening that firmly established what was thereafter known as the Holocaust, acknowledging it as a singular phenomenon within the Second World War’s theatre of violence. That this was clearly at the forefront of Bacon’s mind is apparent in the swastika-brandishing figure of the right panel in Bacon’s 1962 Crucifixion and the war-time source of the present work’s composition.

Using it as a springboard therefore, Bacon abstracted the forms and figures of the Picture Post image to deliver a painting of enigmatic allusion and complex metaphor. While maintaining the essential geometry and perspective of his source image, Bacon has nonetheless transfigured the girl’s body into the rubble and detritus that surrounds her; her form becoming one with the squalid fallout of an urban bombsite. Watched over by a twisting corporeal form that bears little resemblance to the watchful father in the black and white photo, Bacon’s twisted figure and the resounding atmosphere of post-war squalor calls to mind the strained and pulverized forms of Alberto Giacometti’s works of 1936 onwards. For example, the bedraggled loping form of Giacometti’s Le Chien (1951) looks equally at home next to Bacon’s painting as it does beside an evocation of the dismal streets of war-torn Paris.

Herein, the impact of Giacometti on Bacon’s work cannot be overestimated. Having moved beyond abstraction in a truly innovative way, Giacometti is often thought of as the principal influence on the School of London painters, and Bacon himself once described the Swiss master as “the greatest living influence on my work” (Francis Bacon cited in: Daniel Farson, The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon, London 1994, p. 167). David Sylvester, whose interviews with Bacon are of canonical importance, also wrote extensively on Giacometti, focussing on the sense of loss and transience of life evoked by his paintings and sculptures. These evocations also permeate Bacon’s work as well, with existential crises providing the drive and recurring themes for his career. The stark architecture, decontextualised street setting, and detritus which clusters in the gutter imbues Turning Figure with a palpable and weighty post-war atmosphere.

Hugely inspired by the grand melodrama and pathos of Aeschylus, Greek tragedy, and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, Bacon's figures are imbued with an intense Dionysian abandon countered by the Apollonian calm interiors and isolated stages upon which his tragic dramas unfold. This can be traced as far back as the three Eumenides of his seminal 1944 triptych and carries through to the mythical grandeur of Triptych, 1976, a work centred on a complex musing and conflation of the Promethean and Oresteian myths. For Bacon, ancient myth presented the imaginative 'armature' upon which all kinds of sensations and feelings attuned to the violence of contemporary existence could be hung.

Tortured and isolated, the subject of Turning Figure reflects the existential crises that peppered Bacon’s career while the mulch of unidentifiable paper and trash mirrors the solace from those crises that he found in literature. The influence of Giacometti is also undeniable given the weighty post-war atmosphere and distorted manipulation of the human form; a body distorted by the impact of war. As with all of Bacon’s paintings, what we are primarily confronted with here is a body that does not perform as we expect it to. As Brenda Marshall describes, this is “a body that oozes, shifts frantically, a body that has muscles distended into grotesque animality, a body that knows about the smears of slippery substances that swill over and around it, a body that is made of water and blood and excrescences from unfathomable interiors” (Brenda Marshall, ‘Francis Bacon, Trash and Complicity’ in: Martin Harrison, Ed., Francis Bacon: New Studies). The urgent immediacy and primal drive of Bacon’s work is in full evidence here. Unapologetic and strident in its representation and recapitulation of the human form and more broadly the human condition, Turning Figure represents a milestone in Bacon’s oeuvre, both for its position in his canon and for the quality of its execution.

 

 

 

 

A Troubled Genius

 

 

MFAH showcases Francis Bacon’s beautiful and brooding paintings

 

 

BILL ARNING | ART | OUT SMART | HOUSTON’S LGBTQ MAGAZINE | JANUARY 13, 2020

 

The summer of 2019’s Stonewall 50 observance caused galleries and museums around the world to turn the volume up on their usual gay content. I made it my mission to see as many of these exhibitions as I could. Arriving in London on my way to install my own Texas Queers show at The Horsehed (a wild alternative arts space outside of Manchester), I knew I had to get to Kiss My Genders at the Haywood Gallery on the Thames. That show was excellent, but all of my most plugged-in queer arts friends said the best Stonewall show was the Gagosian’s commercial gallery exhibit of Francis Bacon’s paintings, teasingly titled Couplings. I knew well that Bacon was gay, fairly out (even in the 1950s), and a brilliant, challenging painter. In fact, he was the painter I loved most as a teenager. I had a framed poster for one of his NYC Marlborough Gallery shows in my ’70s teenage bedroom, well before I could articulate his dystopic brilliance. But Bacon for Pride?

Bacon’s romantic biography is violent and tragic, at least as negative as the very heterosexual womanizer Picasso (who is currently demonized by a generation of young art historians due to his treatment of the women in his life). But loving Picasso seems like an easy experience compared to a drunken, naked tussle with Bacon. Take Peter Lacy, the fighter pilot who Bacon claimed was the love of his life. He drank himself to death in Tangiers, after having beaten up Bacon on multiple occasions (which Bacon apparently enjoyed, and claimed deepened his ardour for Lacy).

Then in the Bacon biopic Love Is the Devil, we see the gorgeous Daniel Craig playing George Dyer, Bacon’s muse and lover who committed suicide on the night of Bacon’s retrospective opening in Paris. (The idea that Dyer was back at his hotel dying as Bacon was being feted has been proved false—he had died two days earlier; Bacon just kept it a secret.) Yet Bacon’s efforts to make that dramatic tale burn bright were successful for a few decades. But you can’t blame either the cinematic or the real Dyer for feeling desperate. Knowing how many gay men endure unending trauma with their alcoholic relationships, seeing a Bacon exhibition aimed at elevating our sense of gay pride seemed an awkward fit, at best.

Yet, when I walked in to the Gagosian exhibit, I understood my friends’ wild enthusiasm. In 1955, Bacon created and exhibited a painting of two men having sex with an animal power, reminding us that every time we commit sodomy we have the potential to connect with a dark, animalistic queer spirit. When that power takes over our bodies and souls, we connect to Bacchanalian rites going back to time immemorial. While Bacon did not return to the theme of entwined male bodies until the mid-1960s (after English sodomy laws were struck down), his masculine world remains intoxicatingly erotic 50 years later.

Any gay art lover who doesn’t get to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, this spring to see the exhibit Francis Bacon: Late Paintings deserves to lose their gay card and never have passionate sex again. These works are not for those with delicate sensitivities. They are as harsh as they are beautiful. An updated version of an exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Houston show starts with a late-1960s portrait of Bacon’s lover George Dyer. (Bacon promoted another questionable story that the two met when Dyer was burglarizing Bacon’s home, also seen in the biopic.) Dyer’s link to crime, even if he was not good at it, gives a sense of what Bacon found compelling in a lover.

MFAH curator Alison de Lima Green, a beloved Houston treasure, points to the outpouring of Bacon’s best work in response to the trauma surrounding Dyer as a way to understand Bacon’s heartbreaking genius and the explicit memorializing seen in the huge triptych In Memory of George Dyer, 1971. The paintings will make viewers wonder how Bacon could go on for another twenty years.  Anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide will see the triptych’s central panel with the figure opening a staircase door and wonder, “Could anyone have prevented this?

Unlike most Bacon museum surveys, the MFAH show will start in the year of Dyer’s suicide when Bacon is already one of the most successful artists the world had known. He could have just coasted by repeating himself, but these paintings from his last two decades are typified by startling formal experiment. The palette of some of the works in the MFAH exhibit will surprise those who know Bacon as the brooding master of dark fury. While the working-class, rough-trade lads he most desired are less visible than in other shows, Bacon’s deep engagement with the art of painting—and the masters of the form, from Velasquez to Picasso—is highly evident. Bacon even went outside of his comfort zone to try his hand at the female nude, and thereby wrestle with Picasso’s overwhelming genius. Bacon’s recently rediscovered final work, Study of a Bull, 1991, has a startling clarity and challenges Picasso’s ownership of the bull motif in painting.

The final romantic relationship in Bacon’s long life is visible in a 1991 triptych in which José Capelo, a Spanish banker 40 years younger than Bacon, is shown on the left panel while Bacon’s face is acres away on the far right. Bacon was smitten enough to give Capelo a number of his paintings, in addition to a large sum of money.

Capelo ended up in the newspapers again when those paintings were stolen from his Madrid apartment, but then recovered. Although Capelo denies that “lovers” is the right term for their relationship, it appears to have been a mainly positive relationship when compared to the violently drunken lovers Bacon had in his earlier life. Alison de Lima Green is happy that this Capelo triptych (from New York’s Museum of Modern Art) will be in Houston. “Bacon really was a romantic. He flew to Spain to see Capelo against doctor’s orders.”

Bacon’s genius (as well as his love life, in all its erotic, dark frenzy) will be on view at MFAH from February 23 through May 25. I am recommending the show as a first-date destination for all of my most complicated single gay friends. If their dates can handle these paintings, they can handle my friends.

 

 

    

                      Francis Bacon, Female Nude Standing in Doorway, 1972

 

 

 

 

Bacon by the Book. Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

 

 

BY MARTIN HARRISON | EXHIBITION REVIEW | THE BURLINGTON MAGAZINE | NO. 1402 — VOL. 162 | JANUARY 2020

 

In 1996 the Centre Pompidou, Paris, presented a very successful exhibition of eight-eight paintings by Francis Bacon.(1) Bacon by the Book (Bacon en toutes lettres), the first major survey of the artist in France since then, proceeds from two main propositions.(2) The first is that ‘late’ Bacon represents a valid, if overlooked, subdivision of the artist’s oeuvre. Until quite recently critics tended to dismiss the late works as dashed-off, ultimately as failures; for example, in 2006 the exhibition Francis Bacon in the 1950s contended that the 1950s represented Bacon’s ‘most fertile decade’, while apparently ignoring the contradiction that a high percentage of the paintings on display were made after 1960.(3)

The principal departure point for the chronology of the present exhibition is the retrospective comprising 108 paintings mounted at the Grand Palais, Paris in 1971–72.(4) Bacon was an ardent Francophile – as David Sylvester observed, he was almost the last artist ‘who behaved as if Paris were still the centre of the art world’(5) – and he regarded the Grand Palais show as his apotheosis. The only other living artist to have received this accolade was the one against whom he measured himself, Picasso, in 1966. Such was the importance Bacon attached to the event that from June 1969 until May 1971 every painting he made was intended specifically for Paris. This is reflected in the selection process of the current show, which includes his Triptych of 1967 (Fig.19) as well as four paintings made between 1968 and 1970. The 1967 Triptych was formerly identified by the descriptive subtitle, ‘Inspired by T.S. Eliot’s poem “Sweeney Agonistes” ’, appended, to Bacon’s unconcealed irritation, by his gallerist, Valerie Beston; yet the Eliot references in it are incontrovertible, and pertinent to the present exhibition’s theme.

Portrait of George Dyer in a mirror (Fig.18), Three studies of the male back (1970; Kunsthaus Zürich) and the triptychs of both 1967 and 1970 all featured in the Grand Palais exhibition. The presence at the Centre Pompidou of the Dyer portrait, in which the mirror reflection of Dyer’s head is literally bifurcated, enables Bacon’s exasperation with his muse to be measured against the more ambivalent emotions on display in the three so-called ‘black’ triptychs that were memorials to Dyer. That Dyer committed suicide less than two days before the opening of the Grand Palais exhibition has become a routine fascination; Dyer, despite his loathing of Bacon’s paintings, must have known he was not the ‘model’ for either of the 1970 triptychs in the show, and what that signified in terms of his relationship with Bacon. In the context of his death, it is a haunting experience to contemplate, in the same space, In memory of George Dyer (1971; Fondation Beyeler, Basel), Three portraits – posthumous portrait of George Dyer; Self-portrait; Portrait of Lucian Freud and Triptych May–June (1973; the last two are rare loans from the Esther Grether Family Collection). Their impact, however, is militated by the even, rather stark lighting; many paintings from the period of Bacon’s ‘triumphant modernism’, as the exhibition has it, have flat, alkyd grounds, and the odd caste to the illumination renders some of them almost like posters.

That the number of paintings on display – forty-five – is fewer than its Parisian predecessors, reflects the escalation in their monetary value and the consequent difficulties in achieving loans. Yet there is more than enough to admire, including the spectacular assembly of ten of Bacon’s large triptychs. Another coup of the curator, Didier Ottinger, is to have gathered together seven of Bacon’s landscape paintings: over the past twenty years several attempts to arrange a show devoted solely to the landscapes have foundered, and this impressive selection confirms what has been missed. To one of them, Painting March 1985 (private collection), a minimal, stark landscape in its first version, Bacon added one of the Eumenides in a cage. He gifted the painting to a friend, the poet and gallerist Jacques Dupin, whose portrait is in the exhibition. Dupin, incidentally, stressed to the present writer that above all poets Bacon spoke with admiration about W.B. Yeats, whose virtual absence from the display is, therefore, surprising. Eumenides ciphers recur in several paintings, alluding, in line with the exhibition’s literary bias, to one of Bacon’s earliest and most potent inspirations, Aeschylus’s Oresteia trilogy. Indeed, tragedy and mortality are never far away in Bacon’s oeuvre.

The exhibition’s second fundamental aim, as its title implies, is to present Bacon in the context of the books that inspired him, although these were equally germane to his pre-1970 paintings. Bacon’s work continues to attract an extraordinary amount of verbal explication, not least in France, but to attempt to convey this in an art gallery is a brave – it might be considered hazardous – stratagem. It succeeds insofar as passages from some key books that Bacon owned can be listened to in discreetly soundproofed booths that do not interfere with experiencing the paintings: thus the didactic element is not intrusive, although another point the exhibition seeks to convey – that there was a reciprocal influence from Bacon on many of the French writers – is unfortunately, if inevitably in a gallery environment, somewhat lost.

Bacon was delighted that Michel Leiris wrote so extensively about his paintings, and their close friendship was celebrated in two fine portraits of Leiris in the Pompidou’s collection that Bacon painted in 1976 and 1978, both of which are included in the exhibition (Fig.20). Leiris’s seductive prose suited Bacon’s purpose well, since it dealt in generalities (‘realism’, ‘transgression’) rather than the interpretation of specific narratives that the paintings might embody. While he was painting the 1976 Triptych, Bacon wrote to Leiris that the ‘accidents’ in it were triggered by the Oresteia and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1902), adding, in his most ingratiating mode, that Leiris’s fourth volume of his autobiography, Frêle bruit (1976), which the author had recently sent to him, was performing the same function; yet there is nothing frail about this triptych, which is contrived to a degree that suggests Bacon’s excessive reliance on texts was problematic. Conversely, he was indifferent, to put it politely, to Gilles Deleuze’s philosophical musings in Francis Bacon: Logique de la Sensation (1981), notwithstanding his presumed approval of Deleuze’s contention that his paintings were antirepresentational. Since its translation into English in 2003, this has become the most influential text about Bacon in academe – that is, in the field of ‘art theory’ – in conformity with the nonvisual direction art history has taken. If the Pompidou’s exhibition is not quite the last word on the subject, it succeeds in presenting many of Bacon’s most significant ‘late’ paintings. Might it now also draw a line under the words of Leiris, Deleuze et al. and allow art history to move on to fresher insights?

1. Reviewed by Richard Shone in this Magazine, 138 (1996), pp.842–44.

2. Catalogue: Bacon en toutes lettres. Edited by Didier Ottinger. 240 pp. incl. 250 col. ills. (Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2019), €42. ISBN 978–2–84426–854–9. English edition: Francis Bacon: Books and Painting (Thames and Hudson, London and New York, 2019), £39.95. ISBN 978–0–500–23998–8. The exhibition will travel to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, under the title Francis Bacon: Late Paintings (23rd February–25th May 2020).

3. M. Peppiatt: exh. cat. Francis Bacon in the 1950s, Norwich (Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts), Milwaukee (Art Museum), Buffalo (Albright-Knox Art Gallery), 2006– 07, p.ix. Reviewed by Robert Radford in this Magazine, 148 (2006), pp.865–67.

4. See introduction by M. Leiris in exh. cat. Francis Bacon: Rétrospective, Paris (Grand Palais) and Düsseldorf (Städtische Kunsthalle), 1971–72.

5. D. Sylvester: Looking back at Francis Bacon, London 2000, p.187.

 

 

 

 

The Unsparing Pages of Francis Bacon

 

 

 

Almost 30 years after his death, the unabated edginess of Bacon’s paintings, and the dark literary sources informing them, put the lie to our self-mythologizing.

 

 

 

TIM KEANE | ART | WEEKEND | HYPERALLERGIC | 28 DECEMBER 2019

 

PARIS — Violent. Macabre. Garish. Adjectives that spring to mind when looking at a Francis Bacon. His art is often described as a parade of grotesqueries, but the Irish-born painter has long-held a particular place with the French critical establishment.

In 1971 he was awarded a solo exhibition at Paris’s Grand Palais, an exceptional honor for a living artist. And now this city has mounted another Bacon bacchanal, Francis Bacon: Books and Painting at Centre Pompidou, which completes the range of his career, with 60 paintings from the final period, 1971-1991.

The exhibition situates Bacon’s paintings alongside his voracious reading. Upon his death in 1992, he left a library of about 1,300 dog-eared and annotated books. In interview clips with critic David Sylvester that are included in a documentary screening within the exhibition, he references authors who stoked his fatalism. His literary drugs of choice included the ancient Greek tragedian Aeschylus, the gorier plays of William Shakespeare, the anarchical prophesies of Friedrich Nietzsche, and the incantations of poet T.S. Eliot, novelist Joseph Conrad, and former Surrealists like Georges Bataille and Michel Leiris.

The exhibition features separate, darkened galleries that broadcast readings from these authors texts, inviting the visitor to infer connections between ominous words and gruesome paintings. Bacon’s skeptics may not be converted by this literary makeover, but it is a savvy and convincing premise.

Bacon remained formulaic and unsparing to the bitter end, his compact, contorted figures hemmed inside lushly painted monochromatic fields — reds, oranges, pinks — circumscribed by recurrent geometric designs.

Many sitters reside within precincts that could be tanks or cages. These silent, mythic spaces are made more peculiar by the presence of random domestic objects: switch plates and light bulbs, bathroom faucets and mirrors, unadorned windows and wooden chairs. His figures are fleshed out by condensed flourishes and jagged contours. The portraits verge on parody, yet manage to land on brutal, baroque beauty.

Tinged by secular piety, today’s public conversations about human nature often propagate a feel-good mantra that despite our flaws, we’re enlightened beings who eventually overcome our base instincts. But almost 30 years after his death, the unabated edginess of Bacon’s paintings, and the dark literary sources informing them, put the lie to our self-mythologizing.

The painter and his legion of writers see us as our own victims and our own antagonists. Bacon’s contorted and writhing figures are often attended by a mysterious other – a shadow self or a body double. In Michel Leiris’s Miroir de la tauromachie (1939), republished in 1990 with lithographs by Bacon, the French author defines art as anti-humanist provocation. He compares the audacity required for writing an autobiography to the ritual slaughter orchestrated by a bullfighter. In an arena ringed by spectators, the artist (as matador) is nakedly vulnerable while executing calibrated moves to stir a dangerous subject (the bull) into terrifying life. In a nod to Leiris’s text, one of the Bacon paintings included in this exhibition depicts a matador tangling with a bull. In art, life, and bullfighting, the spectator/voyeur soaks in the pain of others. Ezra Pound may have famously declared that art is news that stays news, but Bacon has added the adage, if it bleeds, it leads.

Bacon’s origins seem unlikely for a prophet of doom — born in Dublin in 1909, he was raised in patrician homes in Ireland and England — but biographers report that his father tried to beat his son’s homosexuality out of him. Living on his own by age 16, Bacon drew on an allowance, frolicked in Weimar Berlin’s nightlife, becoming an energetic autodidact and a committed hedonist; the drinking and gambling he pursued with abandon in his youth continued throughout the rest of his life.

In his formative years, visual art was peripheral. In the late 1920s he headed to Paris, saw a major Pablo Picasso exhibition, and came across the Surrealist magazine, Documents, which included Georges Bataille’s poetic mediations on words such as abattoir/slaughterhouse and bouche/mouth, alongside creepy photographs of isolated body parts by Jacques-Andre Boiffard.

In the mid-1930s, he started painting. Rejected for a group exhibition after his art was judged insufficiently Surrealist, he burrowed further into books, especially new English translations and studies of Aeschylus’s The Oresteia – Greek tragedies that pivot on sacrificial violence and bloody revenge.

And non-fiction texts were equally important sources. In one interview exchange, Bacon talks about owning a medical book which contained full-color, hand-drawn illustrations detailing diseases of the mouth. The exhibition’s catalogue also notes that he studied a pioneering medical manual called Positioning in Radiography by K.C. Clark, with its X-rays of damaged bodies. This imagery joined news photos of wrestlers and corpses, photographs of friends and lovers, and stills from films by Sergei Eisenstein and Luis Buñuel as models for his art.

Bacon’s style and subject matter remained so consistent that finding differences among the paintings requires patience — and a strong stomach. His breakthrough triptych, “Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion” (1944/45), which rematerializes in the late period in “Second Version of Triptych 1944” (1988), is the exhibition’s centerpiece. It’s also a case study of how, speaking art-historically, Bacon was neither fish nor fowl. His images resist the backstory or psychology found in traditional narrative or portrait painting, and borrow heavily from postwar abstraction while remaining nightmarishly realistic in approach.

“Second Version of Triptych 1944” features three limbless figures with elongated necks and human mouths, teeth, and ears perched on wooden pedestals. Each figure is marooned in blood red-spaces. One mouth screams into the void; the other grins through clenched teeth. A third figure, on the left, feminized by pink washes and flowing hair, gazes vacantly beyond the picture plane. Interpreted through the exhibition’s literary lens, this triptych distills the human condition in line with ancient tragedy: hope is foreclosed; free will is powerless against a predetermined fate; and that fate perpetuates suffering that can’t be abated by the intervention of others.

Like his literary models, Bacon’s art, for all its pessimism, isn’t nihilistic. For every painting that conjures up butchery and cadavers, others render the body in erotic states. A few paintings are semiabstract landscapes evoking unspoiled spaces graced by sea-grass, sand dunes, and fast-moving water. In the warm pink “Broken Statue and Shadow” (1984) a nude, truncated female torso sits on a platform suspended under a yellow light bulb, inexplicably casting a full-bodied shadow into the soft space beneath, its head and arms restored. The artist’s friends and his lover George Dyer (who committed suicide on the eve of Bacon’s French opening in 1971) are subjects in several paintings, too, signaling the artist’s real-life investment in human connection. In “Portrait of George Dyer in a Mirror” (1968) the striking young man in a neatly tailored suit gazes over his shoulder into a mirror, which reflects back a virile, if fragmented, profile.

In the triptych, “Three Portraits – Posthumous Portrait of George Dyer; Self-Portrait; Portrait of Lucian Freud” (1973), the artist tracks the inevitable dissolution encoded into human bonds. In the left panel, a naked George Dyer sits in a bare room beneath faux-black-and-white photograph of Bacon pinned to the wall. On the far right, the artist Lucian Freud sits unaccompanied in that same bare room, but under a faux-photo of Dyer. The realms of art and friendship merge; absence turns to presence; presence becomes absence. But loss remains central. In the middle painting Bacon portrays himself alone. He gazes forward, his face chiseled and hollowed by grief as he sits flanked by his deceased lover and his distant friend.

Frequently Bacon’s paintings elude words. Nevertheless Centre Pompidou has published a companion edition of critical essays, Francis Bacon au scalpel des lettres françaises (2019), displaying the debt modern French letters owes to Bacon’s art. The Nobel laureate novelist Claude Simon finds in Bacon’s scrupulous detailing and tripartite structure a new model for poetic fiction that is comparably immediate, clinical, and corporal.

Approaching Bacon through Aeschylus’s Oresteia and Christ’s crucifixion, Philippe Sollers traces the artist’s transposition of those ancient leitmotifs into mundane experiences, defining the contemporary condition as a series of muted catharses in which the body is “stiffened” by its muffled “cries.” Philosopher Gilles Deleuze reads Bacon’s agonies as originating simultaneously within and without, as the pictures’ “athletic” bodies brace for blows by exterior forces embodied by Bacon’s blocky color and abstract forms, while the figures’ paralysis makes visible their inchoate reactions to internal stimuli.

Unsurprisingly, Leiris’s contribution provides the most matter-of-fact clarification. He compares Bacon’s portraiture to an actor who imbues a minor role with outsized power by playing the scene with a limp. In Leiris’s view, Bacon’s comparable telescopic attention to that “flaw in everyday life” amplifies ordinary human gestures and inanimate objects to an epic scale, thereby flooding the consciousness with these “small” abnormalities

“We spend our lives arm in arm with death,” Bacon bluntly tells a skeptical interviewer. And what’s more “abnormal” than death? From wide-angle to close-up, Bacon portrays daily existence as more grueling — and more unredeemable — than any bullfight

Francis Bacon: Books and Painting continues at Centre Pompidou, Place Georges Pompidou, Paris, France) through January 20, 2020. The exhibition is curated by Didier Ottinger. 

 

 

 

     

       Francis Bacon Three Portraits – Posthumous of George Dyer; Self-Portrait; Portrait of Lucien Freud, 1973

 

 

 

 

A neuroscientist’s view: how Bacon’s paintings shake up the nervous system

 

 

 

BY MARTIN SKOV | REVIEW | BOOKS | THE ART NEWSPAPER | 27 DECEMBER, 2019

 

For some 20 years now, a subfield of the neurosciences called neuroaesthetics has been investigating the neurobiological under-pinnings of human art behaviour. Using brain scanners to probe neural activity while people experience works of art, this research effort has predominantly pursued two central questions: how does the brain come to like or dislike objects it encounters, and how does it represent art objects perceptually, cognitively and emotionally?

While these and other questions of interest to neuroaesthetics are primarily motivated by a desire to understand the peculiarities of the human nervous system, it is worth asking what a neuroscience of art behaviour contributes to our understanding of art. The main answer is that neuroaesthetics helps broaden our conception of art from a specific kind of object to something humans do.

Art is one of the most profound ways humans use to manipulate their surrounding physical world. We use art to craft social structure, modulating human interaction through images, dance, music and storytelling. Engaging with art helps us voluntarily to regulate the physiological state of the body, influencing mood, thinking, autonomic arousal and motor activity. Neuroasthetics ultimately hopes to explain what aspects of our nervous system make this suite of behavioural traits possible—what makes Homo sapiens compulsive art creators and users.

A recently published book, Bacon and the Mind: Art, Neuroscience and Psychology, collects five essays on the oeuvre of Francis Bacon, one of which is by a neuro-art historian, and one of which is by two experimental neuroscientists. All five essays take as their starting point an interest in advancing our understanding of what Bacon’s paintings tried to do and convey. All rely on traditional methods of interpretation in order to identify significant themes, ideas, images, or formal devices in Bacon’s work that need explication. What, then, does “neuroscience and psychology” bring to the table.

There are probably two ways neuroscience can be used to inform interpretation of an artist’s work. One is by helping to illuminate ideas in the work of artists concerned with issues associated with mind and brain. Bacon and the Mind suggests that such issues played an important role in Bacon’s work. All five essays make the point that Bacon’s paintings can be seen as an intermediate between Bacon’s own “nervous system” and that of the viewer. More specifically, Bacon attempted to project onto the canvas experiences that formed an “assault” on his nervous system in such a way that the resulting images themselves would impart a shock to the viewer. The authors trace well-known “wounds” in Bacon’s life—his childhood, his sexuality, George Dyer’s death—and analyse how they are transformed into visual devices that conjure unease, surprise and alarm in the viewer as well, including Bacon’s trademark distortions of faces and bodies.

The book makes the interesting observation that Bacon himself acknowledged this centrality of interaction between painting and mind in his work. He famously said that he sought to represent an inner state in his paintings, calling them “patterns of one’s nervous system”. Yet, while these observations establish mind and the brain as important topics in Bacon’s oeuvre, none of the authors provide any neuroscientific evidence for why these issues so preoccupied Bacon, nor why he chose to paint them in the way he did. Any of the theories they advance – even John Onians’s speculative attempt to root Bacon’s obsessions in how his brain was moulded by childhood experiences – could just as easily have been presented without recourse to any technical understanding of how the brain works.

The second way neuroscience can possibly assist our understanding of meaning-construction in works of art is to provide evidence that viewers are in fact susceptible to a hypothesised effect. All the authors claim that the central impact of Bacon’s paintings consists in their ability to shock the viewer’s nervous system, but only the chapter by Semir Zeki and Tomohiro Ishizu makes an attempt to explain how and why Bacon’s paintings are able to exert this power. Zeki and Ishizu describe how the brain’s visual system is conditioned by evolution to engage visual stimuli in specific ways. Specifically, the visual system contains dedicated neural systems for recognising bodies and faces. Because these systems have evolved to elicit robust responses to stereotypical stimulus properties that represent human bodies and faces, any distortion to such a stimulus will perturb their way of working, causing a visual disturbance. Zeki and Ishizu suggest that Bacon’s paintings succeed in shocking us because they effectively distort how our visual system expects a body or a face to look.

I find this hypothesis intuitively persuasive. It should be noted, however, that Zeki and Ishizu provide no experimental evidence for it. No study so far has investigated if the visual system responds in the way they suggest when people view a painting by Bacon. Furthermore, I also personally believe that Zeki and Ishizu’s hypothesis leaves out an important component: the emotional import of Bacon’s paintings. Why are Bacon’s distorted faces experienced as shocking? Because the human brain elicits negative emotions when it experiences a distorted face. (Because distorted faces, from an evolutionary point of view, are associated with the presence of disease or pathogens.)

To me as a neuroscientist, one of the most striking things about Bacon’s paintings is that he deliberately crafted images that provoke negative emotions: ugly colours, deformed human bodies, etc. If our analysis of his work only includes meaning and formal devices, we lose sight of this elemental fact. One hopes that, in the future, neuroscience and traditional art scholarship can collaborate better to bring our emotional responses to art to the fore.

 

Martin Harrison, ed. Bacon and the Mind: Art, Neuroscience and Psychology, Thames & Hudson, 160pp, £28(hb)

Martin Skov is a neuroscientist at the Danish Research Centre for Magnetic Resonance, Copenhagen University Hospital Hvidovre, Denmark. He has, among other things, published Neuroaesthetics (Baywood, 2009).

 

 

 

    

       Some scientists suggest that Bacon’s device of distorting faces and bodies, as in Pope No. 2 (1960), produces neural, as well as aesthetic, shocks

 

 

 

 

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston spotlights Francis Bacon's final works

 

 

 

BY STEVEN DEVADANAM | ARTS | CULTURE MAP HOUSTON | DECEMBER 16, 2019

 

A man far ahead of his time, artist Francis Bacon (1909-1992) was a bon vivant and gambler before he turned to painting in his 20s and 30s. When he finally settled into art, he soon became known for his edgy, provocative works, especially his imagery of crucifixes and for his triptychs. Before long, he was a celebrated, profoundly influential figure in the art world.

Houstonians can delve into Bacon’s world when the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, presents “Francis Bacon: Late Paintings.” Organized by the Centre Pompidou, where it debuted in September 2019, this is the first in-depth museum showcase of Bacon’s production in his final decades, and the first museum exhibition of the artist’s work to be seen in the U.S. since the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 2009 retrospective in New York.

The exhibition is on view in Houston from February 23 through May 25, 2020.

In 1971, Bacon was at a turning point in his career as he prepared for a major retrospective mounted at the Grand Palais in Paris. The paintings that led up to this exhibition are among those featured in the Houston presentation, including Portrait of George Dyer in a Mirror, 1968, and Triptych, 1970.

The installation will also open with a series of self-portraits, introducing Bacon’s vivid presence at a time when he stated “[I have] no one else to paint.” On October 24, 1971— two days before the opening of Bacon’s Grand Palais retrospective — Dyer, Bacon’s companion (and, many note, lover) of many years, died by suicide in a Paris hotel. Over the decade that followed, Bacon repeatedly paid tribute to Dyer in an ongoing series of paintings.

The exhibition pairs two of his most powerful triptychs dedicated to Dyer, the harrowing In Memory of George Dyer, 1971, and Triptych August 1972, 1972. Introducing one of the exhibition’s central themes, the immediacy of experience and the role of memory, these paintings also touch on Bacon’s literary sources, which ranged from the Greek tragedies of Aeschylus to the contemporary writings of T. S. Eliot and Jean-Paul Sartre.

While Dyer remained Bacon’s most troubling muse, Bacon also branched out into new directions as well, including landscapes, a genre he had abandoned altogether between 1963 and 1978. His landscapes of the 1980s are particularly bold, reconciling the tension between abstraction and representation that animated the artist’s work across his career. Bacon also introduced a fresh astringency to these late works, deserting his densely layered compositions for a new clarity of line and color, which can be seen in Street Scene (with Car in Distance), 1984, and Painting March 1985, 1985.

Also on view will be portraits of his close contemporaries, including the poet Michel Leiris, who observed: “[Bacon’s paintings] help us, most powerfully, to feel the sheer fact of existence as it is sensed by a man without illusions.”

As the MFAH notes, in Bacon’s final paintings, figures become all the more vulnerable, nearly consumed by the empty fields of raw canvas or flat color that surround them.

The Houston exhibition will include his final triptych of 1991, as well as Study of a Bull, 1991, his last completed painting. Unseen for more than two decades, it resurfaced a few years ago from a private London collection and has been shown only once prior to this exhibition.

“Francis Bacon: Late Paintings” opens February 23, 2020 and remains on view through May 25, 2020, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

 

 

       

                                Francis Bacon: Study for Portrait (Michel Leiris),1978

 

 

 

 

 

What inspired the immaculately horrific art of Francis Bacon?

 

 

 

BY RICKY TOLEDO & CHITO VIJANDRE | ART DE VIVRE | THE PHILIPPINE STAR | DECEMBER 16, 2019

 

Flayed carcasses, howling creatures, disfigured heads and tortured bodies of grappling, male lovers. These emotionally charged images dominate the art of Francis Bacon, one of the world’s most important artists who continue to fascinate as seen in the long queues at the opening of “Bacon: Books and Painting” at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. What makes this exhibit even more intriguing is the innovative exploration of the influence of literature in the paintings of the controversial British painter who led a tumultuous life with many violent episodes related to intense relationships and a number of vices that fueled his creations.

Born in Dublin in 1909 to a racehorse trainer father and a mother who was heiress to a steel and coal mine business, Bacon would describe his childhood as “unhappy” in interviews with photographer Francis Giacobetti from late 1991 to weeks before his death in April 1992. “My father didn’t love me, that’s for sure,” he said as he related how the elder Bacon would be very abusive. With the artist’s emerging homosexuality, his father would even have him horsewhipped by the stable boys who would also be involved in his first sexual experiences. This led to a very complicated relationship with his father: “It was very ambiguous because I was sexually attracted to him. At that time I didn’t know how to explain my feelings. I only understood afterwards when I slept with his servants.”

After getting caught wearing his mother’s garments, he was finally expelled in 1926, surviving on a small allowance as he lived the life of a vagrant in London, Berlin and Paris. By the late ’20s, settling in London, he dabbled in interior and furniture design until a mentor, Roy de Maistre, encouraged him to study oil painting. Picasso and the surrealists were strong influences in his early work which found success in 1933 when he exhibited “Crucifixion,” a skeletal black and white composition that foreshadowed his later work, both in his obsession with Christ’s Passion as well as a predilection for morbid subjects showing contorted emotion and visceral physicality. This initial success, however, was followed by a series of rejections at galleries, prompting Bacon to destroy a majority of his works before 1943 and to bring him back to his former life of drifting, drinking and gambling. He returned to painting after the war, though, and produced “Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion” (1944) which he considered the true beginning of his work. This breakout piece placed him in the spotlight leading to his first solo exhibition in 1949.

By 1952, Bacon began one of his most significant and turbulent relationships when he met Peter Lacy, a dashing, well-bred but self-destructive ex-WWII fighter. Even at their most sedate encounters, Bacon would submit to being tied in bondage at Lacy’s house. This sadomasochistic coupling would be instrumental in producing some of the artist’s fine pieces, according to the art historian John Richardson who describes the aftermath of an incident when Lacy hurled Bacon through a glass window after a drinking spree: “His face was so damaged that his right eye had to be sewn back into place. But Bacon loved Lacy even more. He would not forgive Lucian Freud for remonstrating with his lover.”

But the most famous of Bacon’s lovers would have to be George Dyer whose suicide he immortalized in a painting in 1971, on the eve of the artist’s retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris. “Bacon would goad George into a state of psychic meltdown then in the early hours of the morning — his favorite time to work — he would exorcise his guilt and rage and remorse in images of Dyer aimed, as he said, at the nervous system,” says Richardson. As the goading worsened, the imagery intensified and finally, after an unsuccessful suicide attempt in Greece, Dyer killed himself in Paris. This was a turning point in Bacon’s career, after which his paintings acquired “a precision, clarity and intensity that made them ‘immaculate,’” according to Didier Ottinger, the curator of the current Pompidou show. The exhibit concentrates on Bacon’s career from 1971 to 1992 which, for Ottinger, produced the artist’s best paintings. For more than 40 years, Bacon was trying to produce that elusive “immaculate” painting, inventing a technique “that would reconcile the intensity and precision with which the technical means of photography and cinema had endowed the modern image, and the delicacy required to render the quivering, the very movement of life.”

This period of Bacon’s maturity coincided with his relationship with John Edwards which was platonic and seemingly free of sadomasochistic overtones. He turned to books for inspiration, accumulating an enormous library in his London studio.  A major highlight of the exhibit is the inclusion of six rooms that play readings from some of these books in relation to the 60 works of which 12 are triptychs. The authors evoke a common poetic universe rooted in tragedy:  “From the philosophy of Nietzsche to the tragedies of Aeschylus, from the poetry of T.S. Eliot to the novels of Conrad, the writings of Leiris and Bataille, Bacon was interested in authors who shared an implacably realist conception of the world, demonstrating a compatibility of contradictory principles,” says Ottinger.  Nietzsche, for example, analyzed the coalescence of Apollonian beauty with Dionysian excess while Bataille established the fusion of vital energy with destructive forces.

Bacon’s fondness for stark, tragic stories reflected how he viewed his own life, according to Michael Peppiatt, a friend and biographer of the artist: “He looked for other people who also looked down into the darkness” Aeschylus was a particular favorite whose verse “The reek of human blood smiles out at me” evoked “the most exciting images” for him. Passages like this helped shape his art:  “I need to visualize things that lead me to other forms or subjects, details, images that influence my nervous system and transform the basic idea.” “Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus” (1981) includes the title of the book but just like his other pieces, it is not a linear narrative interpretation. His guilt over Dyer’s suicide manifests itself, though, in the shape of the Euminides, the Furies who hounded Orestes in the wake of his parricide. “Study from the Human Body and Portrait” (1988) has different layers that reflect Eliot’s “The Waste-Land” with its “fragmented construction and its collage of languages and multiple tales,” says Ottinger.

Ultimately, artists work with human material, not with colors and paintbrushes. “It’s his thoughts that enter the painting,” said Bacon in the interview with Giacobetti. “But I don’t expect any certainty in life. I don’t believe in anything, not in God, not in morality, not in social success. I just believe in the present moment if it has genius — in the emotions that I experience when what I transmit on the canvas works. I am completely amoral and atheist and if I hadn’t painted I would have been a thief or a criminal. My paintings are a lot less violent than me.  Perhaps if my childhood had been happier, I would have painted bouquets of flowers.”


“Bacon: Books and Painting” is ongoing at the Centre Pompidou in Paris

 

 

    

                                                                       The third painting from “Triptych 1970” 

 

 

 

 

Council urged sell off 'ugly £20m' Francis Bacon painting and use money to build affordable housing

 

 

 

Lying Figure No 1 is displayed at the New Walk Museum

 

 

 

BY DAN MARTIN | POLITICS REPORTER | NEWS | LEICESTERSHIRE LIVE | 2 DECEMBER 2019

 

A councillor has suggested a Leicester City Council-owned Francis Bacon painting which he claims could be worth up to £20 million should be sold to provide cash for affordable housing.

Lying Figure No 1 is currently on display in the city’s New Walk Museum and is part of the council collection of 5,400 artworks worth nearly £60 million in total.

Liberal Democrat city councillor Nigel Porter branded the oil on canvas ‘ugly’ during a recent council meeting and urged the Labour city mayor Sir Peter Soulsby to sell it to help ease the authority’s financial predicament.

Coun Porter said: “This Lying figure No 1 could be worth up to £20 million.

“Personally I don’t really like the picture. I don’t rate it. I imagine not many people in Leicester would. I don’t like his colours and I don’t like what he do. If I was the city mayor I would certainly look to sell it. If you could get £20 million for it that money could go into providing 100 or so affordable houses. This picture is incredibly valuable. Could we have a public poll or consultation, at time when we are cash-strapped and people are desperate for housing that we consider selling this ugly painting off?”

The Irish-born painter died in 1992. In 2013 his Three Studies of Lucien Freud sold for $142.4 million in New York. Another piece of his called Seated Figure sold for $40 million in 2014.

The city council has declined to comment on the value of Lying Figure No 1 but city mayor Sir Peter said it would not be sold in any case.

He said “There are precedents to selling our valuable things to support current expenditure but our registration of our galleries and our museums is dependent on maintaining the collections we have got and not flogging them off because of running costs. This is true of councils up and down the land – none of them sell the assets kept in their trust for future generations. It is true there are some very valuable pieces in our collection which weren’t necessarily valuable when they were acquired by or given to us. We need to keep our accreditation which is important to use and keep our reputation which is equally important to us and the sale of assets for short term gain is something nobody would thank us for.”

Coun Patrick Kitterick recalled when Tower Hamlets council attempted to sell a £20 million Henry Moore sculpture saying: “Even for a council not used to controversy it was not their finest moment.”

Coun Porter said: “If we had a Henry Moore we should hold onto it. I wouldn’t propose flogging a Henry Moore off but the thing that concerns me about Francis Bacon is that his style is very particular and it can quite easily go out of fashion

Sir Peter said: “I’ll be frank. It’s not my favourite piece in there (the museum) – the wonderful de la Tour is – and I know our art collection quite well. And we can’t sell any of it.”


 

 

       

                                                                        Lying Figure No 1

 

 

 

 

A Multi-faceted Look at Francis Bacon’s Psychology

 

 

 

 

The five essays in Bacon and the Mind: Art, Neuroscience and Psychology call us to grapple with an artist whose life and work were anything but simple.

 

 

 

JOSEPH NECHVATAL | BOOKS | HYPERALLERGIC | NOVEMBER 14, 2019

 

In association with Thames & Hudson, the Estate of Francis Bacon has published the first in a series of books intended to elucidate Francis Bacon’s emotional motivations behind his celebrated paintings through the perspective of art, neuroscience and psychology. Though his source imagery was often illustrative photography (examples include Eadweard Muybridge’s naked male wrestlers and a screaming image from Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 film The Battleship Potempkin), Bacon famously tried to reject all narrative closure concerning his paintings. This book respects that wish and aims to protect Bacon’s work from the crippling crunch of closure.

Comprised of five essays, Bacon and the Mind: Art, Neuroscience and Psychology, is splendid to look at. Printed on lush matte paper stock are a plethora of color reproductions of Bacon’s paintings and a few images that influenced him. Some, like the darkly heated “Head I” (1948) and enigmatic, elegiac “Two Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer” (1968), gloriously take up a full page. For me this is excellent, in that I cannot abide sustained looking at Bacon’s actual paintings that sit behind the glass that he insisted upon putting over his visceral surfaces. Where the glass kills the unaffected grandeur of the paintings and tames the vividness of his spasmodic curling strokes, the book’s matte paper allows for deep looking at his paintings. Bacon said in 1963 that great art unlocks the valves of intuition and perception about the human situation at a deep level, and the matte allows for that as we dig into the essays.

Contemplating the intensity of Bacon’s images as I leisurely read the book’s first text by artist Christopher Bucklow, who, by tracking an asserted unconscious urge within Bacon’s oeuvre as the scourged white male body, argues that Bacon’s sexual attraction to his father, blurred by booze and memory, shaped the artist’s sensibility for physical lust and his comparable visceral ideas of art. The story goes that his father found the teenaged Bacon wearing his mother’s underwear and brutally beat him in the same Irish horse stable where Francis first enjoyed sex with a stable boy. Thereafter, women’s sexy fishnet stockings became a mainstay of the artist’s wardrobe as a way to ward off his bouts of melancholia.

Next, clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst Steven Jaron brings a neuroaesthetic reading to Bacon’s destructive drinking, sexual brutality, and gambling and risk, maintaining that these elements became part of Bacon’s “hard wiring.” Intelligently, Jaron’s psychology-based essay fruitfully turns to the earlier book by Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation which questions the implications of the artist’s habitual compulsive obsessions with “the wound.” Indeed, Deleuze has clearly described how Bacon ascends from actual wounded figurations to virtual sensations through his use of the diagrammatic field of consistency. According to Deleuze, Bacon found through his illustration-type images a way to paint in the non-narrative sweet spot of sensation that oscillates between the actual and the virtual.

I find this argument compelling, but Bacon’s yearning toward sensational ‘wounding’ seems most concisely explained (if one wishes a convincing explanation) by Bacon’s flagrant masochistic ferocity. As Jaron mentions, it is well known that Bacon began in Berlin in 1927 to enjoy the brutality of sadomasochism. He especially enjoyed being beaten up by his great love Peter Lacy, who died of suspicious causes in Tangiers on the cusp of Bacon’s 1962 Tate retrospective. Bacon’s relationship with George Dyer, whom he met in late 1963, was also laced with stormy masochism and ended in tragedy. Just before the opening of Bacon’s 1971 Retrospective at the Grand Palais, Dyer was found dead from an overdose squatting on the toilet in their bathroom at the Hotel des Saint-Pères.

Such brushes with violent sex and death speak directly to the implied risks concerning Bacon’s virtuoso hit-or-miss engagements with oil paint: risks of creative destruction that obviously enriched his matière. Bacon’s flamboyant painterliness, arrived at as if by chance or accident on flat monochrome fields, exemplifies Andre Breton’s Surrealist declaration that “Beauty will be convulsive or cease to be.” Yet Dada-based Surrealist chance operations are scarcely mentioned in the book, perhaps because in his late work Bacon dispensed with flicking brushwork accidents and chance.

The psychoanalyst Darian Leader also offers stimulating insights from a Lacanian psychoanalytic perspective, including two key inverted mirrored incidents of great emotional impact for the artist. Peter Lacy and George Dyer both died, assumedly of alcohol and drug poisoning, on the eve of Bacon’s most important art exhibitions, but it is weirder than that. As Leader tells it, Bacon and Lacy broke up when Lacy found Bacon in flagrante delicto with another man in their bed in Tangiers; and Bacon found Dyer with another man in their hotel room in Paris, just before he croaked.

Next, John Onians explores Bacon’s creative destructive instinct in terms of neural plasticity and probes Bacon’s mind through a study of the curved horizontal lines in Bacon’s paintings. Onians postulates that these curved spatial lines come from the modernist tables Bacon made in the late-1920s (one is reproduced here) in the style of Le Corbusier and also points out that these curved thin lines echo the curved rails of the horse racing track where Bacon’s father lived out his career as a horse trainer and breeder. This is followed by a review of Bacon’s more general interest in animal intensity.

Semir Zeki and Tomohiro Ishizu close the book out with a fascinating (if dry) neuroscientific academic paper on the brain science behind Bacon’s method of shocking by way of facial and figure deformation.

Though probably not every extravagant extreme of the artist’s life and work has been addressed here, Bacon and the Mind: Art, Neuroscience and Psychology is a rewarding plunge into his brain that every painter and lover of painting should take, especially those able to visit the current Bacon exhibition at the Pompidou Center entitled Bacon en toutes lettres (Bacon: Books and Painting). That show (with this book in mind) ties Bacon’s paintings to the depths of his sadomasochistic mind as stimulated by the writings of Eschyle, Nietzsche, Bataille, Leiris, Conrad and Eliot. This range of considerations informs the haptic thoughts embedded in Bacon’s memory-fueled paintings, where information acts in unison with imagination

Bacon and the Mind: Art, Neuroscience and Psychology, edited by Martin Harrison with essays by Christopher Bucklow, Steven Jaron, Darian Leader, John Onians and Semir Zeki is now available.

 

 

 

         

                                                                      Detail of  “Portrait of George Dyer Crouching” (1966) Oil on canvas 78 x 58 in. (198 x 147 cm), Private collection

 

 

 

 

 

Sotheby's

 

 

CONTEMPORARY ART EVENING AUCTION

 

 

LOT 23 | 14 NOVEMBER 2019 | 7.00 PM EST | NEW YORK

 

 

 

Francis Bacon

1909 – 1992

 

Pope

 

oil on canvas
77 1/8 by 55 7/8 in. 195.9 by 141.9 cm.
Executed circa 1958

 

Estimate 6,000,000 – 8,000,000 USD

 

LOT SOLD. 6,642,400 USD

 

 

PROVENANCE

 

Nicolas Brusilowski (acquired directly from the artist in 1959)
Galerie Krugier et cie, Geneva
Olga H. Knoepke (acquired from the above in 1967)
Gifted to the present owner by the above in 1981

 

 

EXHIBITED

 

New York, PaineWebber Art Gallery, An Invitation to the Brooklyn Museum of Art: A Subway Ride Away, September - December 1999 
Munich, Haus der Kunst, Postwar: Art Between the Pacific and the Atlantic, 1945-1965, October 2016 - March 2017, p. 362, no. 120, illustrated in color

 

 

LITERATURE

 

Martin Harrison, ed., Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné, Volume III, 1958-71, pp. 550-51, no. 58-07, illustrated in color

 

 

CATALOGUE NOTE

 

Pope from circa 1958 broadcasts Francis Bacon’s most celebrated and recognizable iconography, which today remains one of the most pertinent, universal, and affecting visions in the history of art. Here, we witness the zenith of Bacon’s greatest subject – a subject that spanned over twenty years and reveals both Bacon’s love affair with Diego Velázquez and his will to expose the fallacy of such images for a world living in the dim light of Nietzche’s declaration of God’s death. Executed during the years of Bacon’s tumultuous romance with Peter Lacy, the present work is one of just six surviving canvases the artist painted in Tangier; of the other five, one work resides in the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, and the other four belong to esteemed private collectors worldwide. Having remained in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum for nearly forty years, Pope is a rare exemplar of Bacon’s signature style and marks a critical historical moment in his storied career.

In 1952, having met Peter Lacy in Soho’s Colony Room, Bacon embarked on what was to become “the most exalted and most destructive love affair he was ever to know.” (Michael Peppiatt, Exh. Cat., Norwich, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Francis Bacon in the 1950s, 2006, pp. 57-58) The artist revealed the tumult of his relationship with the former Battle of Britain pilot, declaring that: “I couldn’t live with him, and I couldn’t live without him.” (Ibid., p. 42) Tough to the point of cruelty, Lacy held Bacon perpetually in an emotional and physical vice, and although Lacy was one of the most significant loves of the artist’s life, this tempestuous affair was ultimately calamitous. Bacon later lamented in conversation with Peppiatt that: “Being in love in that way, being absolutely physically obsessed by someone, is like an illness.” (Ibid., p. 40) Lacy moved to Tangier in the mid-1950s, where he lived on a meager income by playing the piano in a local bar. Although Bacon kept his studio in London, he made frequent and extended trips to Tangier during the summers. The lifestyle of Tangier was perceived as exotic and more tolerant of homosexuality, offering an escapism that was liberating for them both. During these stints in Morocco, Bacon was particularly prolific, writing to his dealer Erica Brausen: “I hope to come back with about 20 or 25 paintings early in October… I feel full of work and believe I may do a few really good paintings now.” (The artist quoted in Michael Peppiatt, Ibid., p. 211) Ultimately, however, the majority of paintings that Bacon created in Tangier were destroyed. Five of the remaining six paintings – including the present work – Bacon gave to his friend Nicolas Brusilowski, hoping that the canvases may be able to be reused by Brusilowski. Perhaps recognizing the significance of these canvases, however, Brusilowski did not paint over them, but instead preserved them. These paintings contribute to a grander legacy of Bacon’s life and work; that they are included and recognized in the artist’s catalogue raisonné further cements their significance at an important moment within the artist’s impressive career. The fortuitous circumstances under which the present work survived add to its illustrious and unique history

Pope illuminates the artist’s famously tortured soul and reveals Bacon wrestling with his most iconic subject matter in a crucial stage of artistic development. Upon a spare geometric dais, vertical brushstrokes of deep green and pale lilac delineate the frame of a throne, whose presence anchors the more fluid and ethereal figure. The dark, velvety background of Pope glows with underlayers of dark teal and navy, bringing a richness and depth to this painting. Against the stark, architectonic structure of this cage, Bacon juxtaposes more rounded passages of paint to build up the main figure, bringing a more organic physicality to the Pope – the solitary figure upon which he casts a spectrum of psychological profundity. In the wake of World War II and the Holocaust, Bacon delved into the existentialist human condition, isolating the central figure in an anonymous dark void. As spare as the Pope’s surroundings seem, his face is clearly articulated with stunning specificity; Bacon pulls swaths of green and ivory across a taut jawline and hollowed eyes, one of which lands upon the viewer and affords an intimate glimpse into the sitter’s psychological state. Strokes of rosy pink and bright white delineate lips, chin, and teeth to form a mouth whose full lips hang loosely agape. The Pope’s torqued anatomy thrusts outward against the strict lines of the chair, and – in turn – pushes up against what Milan Kundera refers to as the “limits of the self”; “Bacon’s portraits are the interrogation on the limits of the self. Up to what degree of distortion does an individual still remain himself? To what degree of distortion does a beloved being still remain a beloved being? For how long does a cherished face growing remote through illness, through madness, through hatred, through death still remain recognizable? Where lies the border beyond which a self ceases to be a self?” (Milan Kundera in France Borel, Bacon: Portraits and Self-Portraits, London, 1996, p. 12) Bacon’s handling of paint is on brilliant display in the present work, with the most intense application of pigment reserved for the head of his subject. The sheer intensity, detail, and controlled violence of the Pope’s visage attest to the true mastery of the artist; akin to the greatest portraits the artist produced, the swipes and blows that delineate the Pope’s features are carved with an incredible combination of sensuous delicacy and fierce brutality.

Perhaps more than any other theme associated with his canon, the threat of mortality inhabits every facet of Bacon’s art. Danger, violence, and death constantly linger in the recesses of his canvases, acting like a continual incantation of his deft maxim: “Consciousness of mortality sharpens one’s sense of existing.” (The artist in conversation with Hugh M. Davies in 1973, in Martin Harrison, ed., Francis Bacon: New Studies, Göttingen, 2009, p. 96) Many of Bacon’s later works became directly associated with the sudden and brutal deaths of both Lacy and later George Dyer, but in fact, the risk of impending fatality imbued his existence and artistic practice from its most formative stage. Michael Peppiatt has suggested that the trauma of Bacon’s early life and his exile from home had a part to play in the sadomasochistic reiteration of violent persecution redolent in his various crucifixion themed works, as well as informing his undoing of dominant masculinity through the image of the Pope. Similarly, in painting the ultimate figure of patriarchy, the Pope, Bacon can be seen to confront the tyrannical father as epitomized by his own disciplinarian father. A retired army captain and racehorse trainer with a militant puritanical streak, Bacon’s father tyrannized the entire household, and in particular a son with whom he was at odds. Allergic to his father’s horses, asthmatic, and unashamedly effeminate, Bacon was expelled from the family home after being caught admiring himself in the mirror wearing his mother’s underwear. That the Pope, the Holy Father, was to be Bacon’s most revered subject when he reached artistic maturity, is perhaps in part owing to his coming to terms with his own trauma.

The archetype Bacon appropriated as a starting point for his Pope series was Diego Velázquez’s extraordinary Portrait of Pope Innocent X from 1650, held in the Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome, a painting about which Bacon felt “…haunted and obsessed by the image…its perfection.” (The artist in conversation with Hugh Davies, June 1973, in Hugh Davies and Sally Yard, Francis Bacon, New York, 1986, p. 23) It has previously been noted that Bacon had not at this stage in his career seen the Velázquez painting in Rome firsthand, and instead more likely that the artist was familiar with another version of Velázquez’s painting, one that has resided in Apsley House, the seat of the Duke of Wellington in London, since the beginning of the nineteenth century. That Apsley House sits at Hyde Park Corner, roughly fifteen minutes’ walk from the Royal College of Art where Bacon had his studio in the early 1950s, readily invites the hypothesis that he was able to view this highly accomplished work in person, the study of which informed the present work.

Within the grand theater of Bacon’s oeuvre, the Pope paintings occupy an enormous and highly significant position. Indeed, Michael Peppiatt notes: “Bacon’s Popes are not only the centerpiece of all his paintings in the 1950s, but a centerpiece of the whole of twentieth-century art.” (Michael Peppiatt, Exh. Cat., Norwich, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts (and travelling), Francis Bacon in the 1950s, 2006, p. 28) The present work proffers an intimate profile loaded with physicality, the Pope’s presence emerging with each loaded stroke of paint, unraveling the sitter’s psychological and emotional essence, and capturing the post-war zeitgeist that forever shifted the history of art in the twentieth century.

 

 

 

      

                                          Francis Bacon  Pope  oil on canvas 77 1/8 by 55 7/8 in. 195.9 by 141.9 cm.  Executed circa 1958

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHRISTIES

 

 

Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale

 

 

LOT 17B | SALE 17649 | NEW YORK | 13 NOVEMBER 2019

 

 

 

From a Private European Collection

 

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992)

Study for Self-Portrait

 

 

Estimate USD 8000,000— USD 12,000,000

 

 

 

 

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992)


Study for Self-Portrait
signed, titled and dated 'Study for Self Portrait 1979 Francis Bacon' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
14 x 12 in. (35.3 x 31 cm.)
Painted in 1979.

 

 

Provenance

Marlborough International Fine Art, Vaduz, acquired from the artist, 1980
Marlborough Fine Art Ltd, London
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1980

 

Literature

Francis Bacon 1909-1992: Small Portrait Studies, exh. cat., London, Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., 1993, n.p. (illustrated).
M. Kundera and F. Borel, Bacon: Portraits and Self-Portraits, London and New York, 1996, pp. 145 and 214 (illustrated in color).
M. Harrison, ed., Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné, Volume IV, 1971-92, London, 2016, pp. 1192-1193, no. 79-11 (illustrated in color).

 

Lot Essay

Enveloped in darkness, the harried face of Francis Bacon stares out from the surface of the canvas. Half mired in shadow, and half bathed in strong raking light, this exceptionally rendered self-portrait reveals with striking detail the artist’s strong features. Painted in 1979, Study for Self-Portrait has been in the same private collection for nearly four decades and is one of the last small-scale single canvas self-portraits that Bacon completed, the result is a psychologically complex painting which provides an astute reading of both the artist and his art. Striking in its use of color, and in the dissemination of light and shadow, it stands apart as a striking example of his late oeuvre. Similar in composition to his 1979 triptych Three Studies for a Self-Portrait, in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, this jewel-like painting captures the complexity of Bacon’s art as he journeys into the deep recesses of his own minds.

When Bacon painted Study for Self-Portrait he was nearly 70 years old, and his seven decades of experience can be seen etched across his face. From the deep creases that traverse his forehead, to his sunken eyes, this is the portrait of a man who has lived, seen, and experienced firsthand a life characterized by demons and traumas. His eyes appear haunted, or at least raw from a prolonged emotional outpouring, and staring off into the middle distance—with his eyes cast slightly downwards—he appears engrossed in his own memory. While the strong use of raking light blanches out the subtleties of the complexion of Bacon’s high cheekbones, bright bursts of crimson, ruby red, and purple open up the depths and recesses of the folds and furrows of his skin, together with his slightly pursed lips, revealing the hollow darkness of his mouth. This dramatic use of light also causes the (proper) right side of his face to fall into darkness, with features dissolving before disappearing into the blackness. Filling the picture plane, the extremes of Bacon’s life are clear, and with his expressive face pushed forward, it is there for all to see.

The artist gained his reputation as one of the 20th-century’s most innovative painters by producing dramatic canvases that featured people drawn from his own life. Friends, acquaintances, lovers and the various characters he came across as he spent his evenings in the pubs and clubs of Soho populate his early oeuvre. Building on Picasso’s earlier generation of Cubist figures, Bacon’s investigations into the ‘self’ take the form of images which he then dismantles in order to build up a deeply psychological portrait of the subject. In many ways writes Milan Kundera, author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, “Bacon’s portraits are the interrogation on the limits of the self. Up to what degree of distortion does an individual still remain himself? To what degree of distortion does a beloved still remain a beloved being? For how long does a cherished face growing remote through illness, through madness, through hatred, through death still become recognizable. Where lies the border beyond which a ‘self’ ceases to be a ‘self’” (M. Kundera, “The Painter’s Brutal Gesture,” in F. Borel, Bacon Portraits and Self-Portraits, 1996, London and New York, p. 12)

But as he grew older, Bacon began painting more and more self-portraits. Speaking in 1975, he commented that “I’ve done a lot of self-portraits [recently], really because people have been dying around me like flies and I’ve had nobody else left to paint but myself” (F. Bacon, quoted by D. Sylvester, Interviews with Francis Bacon, London, 2016, p. 150). As he advanced towards old-age, and his circle of friends diminished, Bacon’s own feeling of mortality resurfaced, feelings that had haunted him for much of his life. He remembers recalling at the age of 17 that life was limited, and that you only have a brief time on earth before you disappear forever. “One of the nicest things that Cocteau said,” Bacon once recalled to David Sylvester, was “’Each day in the mirror I watch death’” (F. Bacon, quoted in D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact, Interviews with Francis Bacon, London 1975, p. 152)

In considering his own mortality, Bacon joined a distinguished group of artists who exorcised their own emotions by committing their anxieties to canvas. In the last decade of his life, having survived his wife, all four of their children, and personal bankruptcy, Rembrandt produced what are widely regarded to be some of the great self-portraits ever painted. “…the final decades—between 1652 and his death in 1669,” writes curator Marjorie Wiesman, curator of Dutch and Flemish Painting at the National Gallery in London, “show Rembrandt focusing on more internally motivated concerns: achieving a realistic and sympathetic rendering of old age, now extending its merciless reach across his own face and body, and reflecting upon his own profession and his own place within it” (M. Wiesman, ‘The Late Self Portraits,’ in J. Bikker & G. J. M. Weber (eds.), Rembrandt: The Late Works, exh. cat., National Gallery, London, 2014, p. 37).

Similarly, back in the 20th century, Andy Warhol’s last great series of self-portraits act as a memento mori of sorts. The so-called “Fright Wig” self-portraits that he painted in 1986 are often considered the artist’s most successful. Despite his own often-debilitating shyness, throughout Warhol’s career he chronicled and charted his own appearance in a range of self-portraits, culminating in this final defining series of works. His fame was now so extensive and his features so instantly recognizable in their own right, that he had easily attained the status within the Pop firmament that merited his own inclusion in his pictures. These paintings captured not only a sense of Warhol’s celebrity, but also a sense of his fragility. The stark tonality and fleeting nature of photography belies the intense preparation that went into creating the source image, from purchasing the wig to taking and selecting a photographic template for the silkscreen. Warhol’s gaunt appearance, heightened by the contrast between light and dark, adds a strange, searing anxiety to these paintings. This picture appears to be a self-examination as well as a self-presentation—Warhol, like Bacon only a few years before, was looking into the mirror and confronting what he sees there

The psychological tension that is inherent in Study for Self-Portrait is enhanced by Bacon’s dramatic use of lighting. Although pictured front on, the features on the right of Bacon’s face dissolve into the darkness. His high cheekbones, strong jawline and deep eye sockets all fall away. Whereas on the left side of his face, the strong raking light exposes and exaggerates the artist’s features, on the right side, the impenetrable darkness shrouds him in mystery. This effect can also be seen, to a lesser extent, in his Three Studies for Self-Portrait painted earlier in 1979. The origins of this effect can be traced to Bacon’s interest in photography, and having seen in early modern photographs that were strongly lit. It could have been promoted in particular by the photographs of Helmar Lerski, who had taken a series of photographs of the artist after spotting the young Bacon on the street in Berlin in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Bacon’s interest in photography continued throughout his life and became a central part of his painting practice, and he always maintained that he preferred to paint his subjects from photographs, rather than from real life, and it allowed him to truly deconstruct their facial features.

Francis Bacon’s paintings are among the most powerful works in the modern art historical canon. Visually arresting and psychologically penetrating, they represent the contemporary human condition. One of only a handful of self-portraits which he undertook in the last decade of his life, Study for Self-Portrait is one of the most striking from the later part of his career. Here, the artist breaks down his own image in order to build up a perceptive picture of himself. “Whether the distortions which I think sometimes bring the image over more violently are damage is a very questionable idea,” Bacon said. “I don’t think it is damage. You may say it’s damaging if you take it on the level of illustration. But not if you take it on the level of what I think of as art. One brings the sensation and feeling of life over the only way one can” (F. Bacon, quoted in D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact, Interviews with Francis Bacon, London 1975, p. 43). The result is remarkably personal portrait that shows the complexity of the artist at first hand, and a remarkable new direction for the future of portraiture, as critic John Russell concluded. “…the image is nowhere fixed, finite, descriptive; and yet it tells us more fully and more truthfully than any conventional portrait what it is like to be a human being. It suggests to us that earlier images have been unwarrantedly bland in their presentation of human nature; and it also suggests that this particular new kind of presentation is something that only painting can do. Painting here reclaims its rights” (J. Russell, Francis Bacon, London, 1971, p. 132).

 

 

 

 

 

FRANCIS BACON AT CENTRE POMPIDOU

 

 

 

 

BY EUGENE RABKIN | CULTURE | NEWS | STYLE ZEITGEIST MAGAZINE | NOVEMBER 8, 2019

 

If you wanted to visit Paris before mid-January this year, you’ll find no better reason than the new Francis Bacon exhibit at the Centre Georges Pompidou. As a matter of fact, if you were not planning to visit Paris before then, you should probably change your plans. The exhibit, Francis Bacon: Books and Painting is the first major French exhibition of Bacon’s work since 1996. It was the first museum exhibit of Bacon for me.

Bacon is an awe-inspiring artist, certainly one of the greats. His twisted, tortured, screaming work is never not effective, even if one is confronted, and you are always confronted by Bacon, by a single painting. The most I’ve seen was twenty or so at the several Gagosian exhibits I’ve attended. But when you see the museum-size exhibit of Bacon’s work, you are truly floored. And by floored I mean both being struck by its power and simultaneously diminished, flattened by it. By the end of the exhibit, after being confronted with sixty of Bacon’s paintings, including twelve triptychs, I was emotionally drenched. I say this in the best sense of the term. Time slowed down as each painting arrested my attention. For the first time in a while, art held its sway on my hopelessly diminished attention span. Because of the visual noise overload that we are all confronted with today, my usual reaction to visual stimuli is avoidance, as my brain carefully selects what it wants to process. Here, it was the reverse. My mind was flung open and so were my senses, trying to take it all in, which is of course impossible to do in one sitting. In retrospect, I should have gone back every single day during my week-long stay to take it all in, probably first thing in the morning to avoid the crowd.

Reader, if the above sounds corny to you, that’s fine with me. I wanted to tell you how I felt, because if you are reading StyleZeitgeist, you already know Francis Bacon’s work. The amount of ink spilled over it is immeasurable, as evidenced by the offerings at the exhibit’s gift shop, and I can hardly add anything to it. Therefore, I am only left to go the Susan Sontag route, who said that “in place of hermeneutics, we need an erotics of art.” What she meant was that sometimes it’s better to feel art than to explain it, and in case of this exhibit I could not agree more. Its theme, which is on the influence of literature on Bacon’s work, is exemplary, but once you enter the show, it becomes almost besides the point because of how strong the artwork is.

Bacon’s art is erotic on every level, from the figurative sense Sontag talked about to the literal sense. Bacon was gay and what you are looking is at art that is technically homoerotic, but its homoeroticism is also overcome by its power, which makes it simply erotic no matter what your sexual orientation is. I don’t mean here that it’s arousing in a strictly sexual sense, but that it’s alluring and seductive, a trap of sorts, sex’s physical pleasure sometimes tied to physical pain and all too often tied to emotional pain. Bacon’s sex is violent, a predator-prey dynamic that makes you feel uncomfortable with it and with yourself. But if art, especially modern and contemporary art, does not make you feel uncomfortable, it hasn’t served its purpose. I cannot help but compare, perhaps unfairly, Bacon to Mapplethorpe, whose art has the opposite effect on me, with its clear, cold, almost didactic eye that leaves no room for imagination or seduction.

The works on display at Pompidou span just a tad over two decades, from 1971, the year the major retrospective at Grand Palais in Paris catapulted Bacon to international, popular fame. Bacon’s lover, George Dyer, whom Bacon adored and tortured, died a few days before the opening. Bacon suffered and flung himself into the work, turning it ever darker. Painting was perhaps cathartic, but the resulting work certainly isn’t. It is permeated by pain.

Francis Bacon: Books and Painting is on view until January 20th of next year. If you cannot make it to Paris from the United States, the exhibit will eventually travel to Houston. Though I imagine you’d rather go to Paris.

Francis Bacon: Books and Painting, Centre Pompidou in Paris, through January 20, 2020

 

 

 

                                    

                                        FRANCIS BACON – TRIPTYCH, 1976 – HUILE SUR TOILE, PASTEL ET LETTRES EN TRANSFERT, 198 X 147.5 CM – COLLECTION PRIVÉE

 

 

 

 

 

A French exhibition of Francis Bacon turns him into that pseudointellectual dude from college

 

 

 

BY PHILIP KENNICOTT | ART & ARCHITECTURE CRITIC | MUSEUMS | REVIEW | THE WASHINGTON POST | OCTOBER 31, 2019

 

PARIS — There is something odd about the Francis Bacon exhibition at the Centre Pompidou, though it takes a while to discern exactly what that something is.

“Bacon: Books and Painting” displays the Irish-born artist’s late works (made from 1971 until shortly before his death in 1992) along with the books he cited as important influences on his emotional and intellectual life. It is the display of the books that is odd.

There they are, small tomes, some of them cheap paperbacks, carefully fitted into transparent, wall-mounted cases, like sacred relics or votives. Aeschylus’s “Oresteia,” the foundational trilogy of Western drama, is represented by the black-bound Penguin Classics version, clearly well-used and more than little dog-eared, and a hard-bound volume of Nietzsche, published by the British press George Allen and Unwin, looks like something picked up in a secondhand shop. Six books, including poetry by T.S. Eliot, and Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” are the centerpieces of six small listening rooms, where visitors can hear excerpts read aloud in both French and English.

This wouldn’t happen in the United States.

Printed books aren’t just passe, they have been unfairly associated with ideas about elitism and the life of mind, which terrify museum professionals on this side of the Atlantic. The whole curatorial premise of the Pompidou show — that books were, in some complex way, essential inspirations for Bacon’s work — would be a hard sell in the Anglophone world, which has enshrined anti-intellectualism as the governing ethos of public space. Writers such as Eliot and Nietzsche are presumed to be a turnoff for most audiences, so audiences are protected from them.

But dig a little deeper into the Pompidou exhibition, and it’s clear that the French willingness to fetishize certain authors isn’t necessarily about ideas, either. Rather, it’s a collective bonding experience, enticing crowds to nod in recognition of authors who are represented by their most familiar, most basic, most commonly available thoughts. The excerpt from Nietzsche rehashes the fundamental aesthetic distinction between Apollonian and Dionysian art, which came together in the unity of Greek tragedy. The citation from Eliot is from “The Waste Land,” including these well-trod lines: “April is the cruelest month, breeding/Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing” and the passage taken from Conrad ends with four of the most famous words in English literature, “The horror! The horror!”

This is undergraduate stuff, all worthy references but functioning in the context of the exhibit a bit like posters of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” and Picasso’s “Don Quixote” do on the walls of young people just discovering art. The curator of the Pompidou exhibition, Didier Ottinger, has situated the paintings of Bacon in the context of a Reader’s Digest assortment of texts, a general-interest, user-friendly survey of Big Thoughts 101, circa 1985.

And, sad to say, that seems to be just about what Bacon’s late work deserves. The exhibition takes up Bacon’s career at a critical moment in 1971, when he was given a major show at another major Paris institution, the Grand Palais. That show helped secure his reputation as one of the essential artists of the 20th century, earned him international recognition and further enhanced his reputation in France, where he was embraced as a latter-day reincarnation of the bohemian, bad-boy “genius.” It was also the same year that his lover, George Dyer, died of an overdose of barbiturates and alcohol, a suicide either intentional or the accumulated result of years of abuse. Dyer’s death came only two days before the Grand Palais exhibition opened, and Bacon was forced to soldier through the festivities as best he could.

Some critics see the aftermath of Dyer’s death as a time of deepening in Bacon’s art. The painter referenced his loss in multiple works, including several in this exhibition. Sometimes the reference is explicit in portraits of Dyer, and sometimes more elliptical, as in the harrowing “Triptych May-June 1973,” which shows Dyer’s familiar, swarthy, muscular form slumped on a toilet in one panel, vomiting in another and in profile against the void of a dark doorway in a third canvas, head in hand, eyes closed, lost to despair.

Neither the layout of the exhibition, nor the content of paintings and texts cited, make any specific connection between the books Bacon read and the paintings he made during these years, though Bacon sometimes cited books in the titles he gave to his work. Throughout his life, Bacon ostentatiously avoided talking about the content of his paintings, resisted most efforts to connect his work to that of other artists and maintained a studied evasiveness about things like inspiration and source material. This exhibition honors his resistance to interpretation by resisting any interpretive links between the “books and painting” cited in the show’s subtitle. The organizing principle is mere juxtaposition, not argument or analysis.

The result, in the end, is frustration, which carries over to the paintings themselves. There is a thinness to them, a repetition of means and ideas, and a clamoring for effects that all too often falls flat. In many cases, the paint is spread so thinly over the canvas that the painting seems to itch with dryness, and that itch conveys a sense of irritability to the viewer who remembers (perhaps from undergraduate years) the powerful impact of Bacon’s earlier work, in which he seemed to encapsulate the alienation and misery of 20th- century despair and anomie.

In the 1950s, Bacon made paintings that still raise the hairs on the back of your neck, of screaming figures, bodies trapped in hellish spaces, isolated and untethered from the world. He aligned himself with the dismantling of old ideologies, religion and philosophical systems among them, a dismantling that wasn’t limited to entrenched hypocrisies and hierarchies, but became a scorched-earth rejection of values, a volatile mix of hedonism and nihilism. The paintings seemed to encapsulate that, functioning as ready-made symbols for thoughts most people have at some point, before they begin to sort through the wreckage and salvage some sense of purpose.

The late work, by contrast, feels simply tired, which is no surprise. What Bacon began to do in the 1940s wasn’t sustainable, but he didn’t seem to have any other options, no new insights, no avenues to replenishing wellsprings. It’s possible to read Eliot’s “The Waste Land” when all of life is before you, and think there is some mystical space in its vagaries, that there is a kind of existence to be explored in the lines “I was neither/Living nor dead, and I knew nothing/Looking into the heart of light, the silence.” And it also possible to read that line decades later and recognize merely a trope for a certain dullness of thought spirit that gathers over time if we make no serious efforts to refurbish our minds.

One unwanted effect of juxtaposing Bacon’s books and his paintings is to suggest how shopworn they both were by the last decades of his life. He began as a rebel and ended a roue, spent and spinning his wheels. That conclusion is simplistic and reductionist, of course, but no more so than the ideas foregrounded in the exhibition.

For a foreign visitor, the show accidentally confirms nagging thoughts about Bacon: that he was well-versed in the rudiments of some once fashionable ideas, just as he was highly skilled at conveying a small subset of human emotions, again and again. It’s hard to say which is better, an American-style exhibition that would suggest he had no thoughts at all, or the French style, which suggests he was merely conversant rather than genuinely engaged with ideas.

“Bacon: Books and Paintings” is on view at the Centre Pompidou in Paris through Jan. 20.


 

 

     

                      Installation shot of Bacon: Books and Painting at the Centre Pomidou  (Philippe Migeat/Centre Pompidou)

 


 

 

 

The philosophy books that inspired Francis Bacon’s art

 

 

 

On his 110th birthday week, we’ve chosen five philosophy and psychoanalysis books that inspired the transgressive painter

 

 

GUNSELI YALCINKAYA | ART & PHOTOGRAPHY | FEATURE | DAZED | 29 OCTOBER 2019 

 

Francis Bacon read books just like he painted: deep, dark, and complex. The Irish figurative painter was said to have had an enormous amount of books sprawled across his London studio, from modernist giants like T.S.Eliot, Joseph Conrad, and Marcel Proust, to Friedrich Nietzsche, Gilles Deleuze, Sigmund Freud, and Jacques Lacan, reflecting the artist’s explicit interest in philosophy and psychoanalysis. In a 1966 interview with British art critic David Sylvester, he claimed to know some of these books “by heart”.

“I call it my imagination material,” he told French photographer Francis Giacobetti in 1991, during what would become his final interview before his death the following year. “I need to visualise things that lead me to other forms or subjects, details, images that influence my nervous system and transform the basic idea.” Like Bacon’s own artwork, which could be described as spectacles of horror – visceral, distorted images of crucifixions, mutilations, and monsters – his chosen literature was equally transgressive, often opposing existing philosophical and political ideas of their time.

On what would be the 110th anniversary of his birth, we’ve chosen five of Bacon’s favourite philosophy and psychoanalysis books.

 

 

FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE’S BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL

 

In this seminal text, German existentialist Nietzsche begins by critiquing philosophers who ground their ideas on principles such as self-consciousness, free will, and either/or, instead identifying imagination, danger, originality, and the “creation of values” as the key qualities of a philosopher.

With 296 aphorisms, ranging from a few lines to a few pages, Nietzsche grounds his philosophy from the perspective of “beyond good and evil”, or beyond a universal moral code. The driving force in all humans, Nietzsche believes, is a “will to power”, and while this is not given a strict definition, can roughly be defined as a thirst for life, or the drive to transcend the self through the exercise of creative power. This thirst for life can be seen across Bacon’s artscape. Paintings like “Head IV” and “Study for a Portrait”, for example, present their solitary subjects as tormented, isolated creatures, held in a perpetual screams.

 

 

MARCEL PROUST’S IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME 

 

 

A fictional autobiography made up of seven volumes, In Search of Lost Time traces Proust’s life from the perspective of the narrator as a child and as an old man looking back on his youth

Striking semblance to Bacon’s deformed, blurred subjects, Proust’s book examines the corroding effect of time, which he initially believes makes human experiences and feelings fade to nothing: historical events are forgotten or confused; social values change; as individuals, we forget the details of our own past. It’s only in the book’s final pages that he realises his past emotions and experiences are eternally present in his unconscious, and can survive in works of art.

 

 

JACQUES LACAN’S ECRITS