Francis Bacon News

 

                                                                                                                                                         

                                                                                                                                                 2018–2020

 

 

 

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 | 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