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Perception and the ‘I’ in Samuel Beckett’s

Company and Francis Bacon’s Paintings








When one thinks of Modernism, it is not just Modernist literature that comes to mind but Modernism in all its artistic expressions. This movement – unlike those that preceded it – starts from the idea that there is no fixed basis, with an emphasis on experimentation which is carried out in all kinds of artistic expressions. Several names come to mind when looking at Modernist prose, some figures that had a determinant role in the development of Modernist literature and whose influence continues to be of a vivid significance. In the field of literature in the English language names such as William Faulkner, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, or John Dos Passos stand out as being the main developers of this type of literature. In the following pages, we will focus on one of the milestones in Modernist Literature and Modernism in general: Samuel Beckett (1906-1989)1 . Even though his influence is higher in the field of theatre, we will be analysing one of his works in prose, which, though at a different level, left a great heritage as well.


All the arts were intermingled in Modernism – as it has the objective of imbuing life – and every artistic creation was an influence over another. That is to say, the paintings, sculptures and literary works that were produced were not separate creations; quite the contrary, each one constituted an inspiration for others. In this context of continuous creative feedback Beckett has his own place. His relation with art was very intense since he was very young. His correspondence leaves great proof of it. As he would define the effect art had on him in one of his letters to Thomas MacGreevy, he experienced an “Own feeling of helplessness, finally, and of speechlessness, and of restlessness also I think, before works of art” (Beckett 2011: 105). Art has a strong impact on the Irish writer, who was left helpless before it many times. All those visits to museums and art galleries during his entire life and specially during his youth constitute not just a mere influence for some of his writings but an essential part of his way of looking at reality and at himself as well as his way of posing questions about it.


It is difficult to say whether all that modern art he saw in the most important galleries of Dublin, Paris, London, or Berlin2 was an inspiration for Beckett’s writing process or, on the contrary, it was Beckett’s work that inspired some of those artists. Most likely, in some cases it was a mutual inspiration. Be that as it may, I contend that some of Beckett’s contemporary artists’ work has a complementary relation with his own. They help to understand and shed new light upon each other’s work. Undoubtedly, the art that struck Beckett the most was one that rose determining questions about aspects such as life, the subject, and reality issues that will be developed, if not given an attempt to be answered, throughout the Irish writer’s texts. For instance, the paintings of Jack B. Yeats, Francis Bacon, or Lucian Freud and their different gazes of a damaged or somehow broken self can add other sensibilities and new angles to Beckett’s statements and view. In the same way, those paintings exploring the self will be enriched and made more intricate after the reading of some of the Irish writer’s literary production, in particular his novella Company (1980), the text that is central in this study.


A new approach to Beckett’s Company is offered here thanks to a starting point which is different from that of other critics of the novella: a comparison with Francis Bacon’s work. We will be looking at one of them whose approach to Beckett’s vision of the world can be considered as equally terrible, that of the ‘I’ facing its own presence in an atemporal fight against its shadow. Bacon, like Beckett, presents existence as a tragedy with no limits. “Es como si ahora llegara a ser posible un combate. La lucha con la sombra es la única lucha real” (Deleuze 2005: 68). Thus, the purpose of this essay is to analyse the relation between Beckett’s prose work Company and the artistic production of Francis Bacon.


This article will adopt a double perspective. The aspects covered in the first part will be mainly the perception of the ‘I’ and the voices of consciousness. Bacon’s self-portraits will be central in establishing this relation to Beckett’s ideas on self-perception.


This will be the most psychological part of the essay, which will approach the text and the paintings from a Cubist viewpoint. Thus, I attempt to illustrate the way the issue of self- perception in both Beckett and Bacon shares some basic characteristics with a Cubist or fragmented notion of reality.


The second part of this paper will consist on a more aesthetical3 approach to both the novella and the paintings, aiming at identifying the correlated aesthetics of both Company and Bacon’s compositions. The lying figures, the eyes, an aestheticized life and a final and paradoxically half-illuminated void, will be the points leading our analysis. Special attention will be paid in this second part to Bacon’s blackest paintings, since darkness and light will become central elements of the argument.


The comparative analysis seeks to provide us with a renewed reading of the novella. A concrete perspective will be given in order to look at Company in the same way in which we observe a Modernist painting: we will take an impression from the text, we will forget about a possible story, and we will take not only an intellectual but also a purely aesthetical insight.



1. Self-perception of the Fragmented and Dismembered Self


La absurdidad primera pone de manifiesto ante todo un divorcio: el divorcio entre las aspiraciones del hombre hacia la unidad y el dualismo insuperable del espíritu y de la naturaleza.4


Company is a novella written by the Irish writer Samuel Beckett and published for the first time in 1980. It was later included in the trilogy Nohow On together with Ill Seen Ill Said and Worstward Ho in 1989. The novella is one of the short prose texts the Irish writer produced in his late period and can be labelled as one of his ‘closed space’ writings, a very appropriate label for our comparative study with Bacon’s paintings. Beckett’s reader could argue that there is a lot of openness in the space of Company, but we will see that the author creates a contradictory space as well as many other contradictory elements in his text. In fact, ‘company’ is a very contradictory title for a novella like this one. We do not seem to have anything like company, as it is revealed at the end, when we are left with a bleak picture that has been building up throughout the pages, a picture of isolation. What we observe is a “devised deviser devising it all for company” (Beckett 2009: 30) that never finds it. Company is the negation of company:


Till finally you hear how words are coming to an end. With every inane word a little nearer to the last. And how the fable too. The fable of one with you in the dark. The fable of one fabling of one with you in the dark. And how better in the end labour lost and silence. And you as you always where.


Alone. (Beckett 2009: 42)


Company begins by giving us a subject. The subject is within a body, which is within a space that seems a lack of space. If Modernist literature seeks the representation of the inner and therefore ‘more real’ reality, Beckett, as one of the foremost Modernists, explores this inner self. If the Modernist Virginia Woolf makes use of the special voice of interior monologue that is helped by Free Indirect Discourse and stream of consciousness, Beckett carries his exploration out through a more complex voice, but equally personal. Beckett’s exploration always takes into account that the subject is framed. As we were saying, it is framed in a body and in time and space. We cannot forget that the exploration and own understanding of time and space are also key themes for Modernist art. Proust had already experimented with time and memory in his À la recherche du temps perdu (1913–1927) when Beckett started writing, and artists such as Dalí with his La persistencia de la memoria (1931) were doing the same exploration with painting at the Irish writer’s times. Time seemed to be subjective, linked to the subject’s memory and perception. It was not that one is framed in an objective time but that time is one’s inner time.


In Company, the voice’s continuous movements to the past in the shape of autobiographical memories blurred by fantasies make us think that Beckett had an interest in the Proustian concern with time5 : “To one on his back in the dark a voice tells of a past. With occasional allusion to a present and more rarely to a future” (Beckett 2009: 3). Real and fictional in time can be confused as all depends on a subject and we as readers do not know what to consider real. Again, Beckett’s subject is not within an ‘exact’ timing but it is the voice which frames time:


To confess, Yes I remember. Perhaps even to have a voice. To murmur, Yes I remember. What an addition to company that would be! A voice in the first person singular. Murmuring now and then, Yes I remember.

An old beggar woman is fumbling at a big garden. Half blind. You know the place well. […] On the way home from kindergarten on your tiny cycle you see the poor old beggar woman trying to get in. You dismount and open the gate for her. She blesses you. (Beckett 2009: 10)


The subject imagines and recalls memories that make him or her who he or she is. ‘I’ am my past, what I remember and what my memories have of real and imagined. Beckett’s ‘I’ of the past, the present and the future are different ‘I’s. Nevertheless, with a lack of objective temporality, we have three simultaneous ‘I’s or a dissolved or combined ‘I’. Time is confused in a deviser that “speaks of himself as of another” (Beckett 2009: 16):

On your back in the dark the light there was then. Sunless cloudless brightness. You slip away at break of day and climb to your hiding place on the hillside. […] So now you hoard it in your heart with the rest. Back home at nightfall supperless to bed. You lie in the dark and are back in that light. Straining out from your nest in the gorse with your eyes across the water till they ache. […] You lie in the dark and are back in that light. Fall asleep in that sunless cloudless light. Sleep till morning light. (Beckett 2009: 15-16)



A Cubist, Broken Self


Might not the voice be improved? Made more companiable. Say changing now for some time past though no tense in the dark in that dim mind. All at once and in train and to come. But for the other say for some time past some improvement. Some flat tone as initially imagined and same repetitiousness, No improving those. But less mobility. Less variety of faintness. (Beckett 2009: 21)


It seems clear that the collage of voices Company consists on builds a broken self. However, by having several voices, the depiction is wider and more real. Something similar can be observed in Francis Bacon’s work. What was introduced by Cézanne and developed by Braque or Picasso is ultimately fostered and brought to maturity by Bacon in a very particular way. After all, both Bacon and Beckett are working with something quite similar to Cubism6 , maybe a deformed and degenerated one. The self is not just broken or fragmented but also degenerated. At the same time, Beckett’s Cubist voice reveals not just that the reality being represented is fragmented, but also that its perception as a whole is not possible. Peter Fifield is the first to have established a connection between the writer and the painter in this respect:


For Bacon the broken body is a striking, multi-textured body, the artist stating, ‘I’m always hoping to deform people into appearance’ (Sylvester, 146). The shiver one has at the sight of a vivid mutilation is surely an extension of that ‘shorthand of sensation’ sought by Bacon in his paintings. Without the blood and gore so characteristic of the artworks, Beckett’s figures are, of course, notably distorted by injury and bodily malfunction as well as the sort of strange embodiment. (Fifield 2009: 60)


If one pays attention to the Irish painter’s self-portraits (see appendix, fig. 1-7) one realises the multi-textural composition that produces the deformation of the face, and therefore of the self, in the paintings. Bacon rejects the established way of portraying and tries to apprehend the essence by emphasising flesh. As Fifield puts it, “The repetition of these mutual acts of mutilation and distortion stresses (and distresses) the physical at the expense of conventional bodies and settings, forging a meaty mimesis of the atypical subject” (Fifield 2009: 69). Funnily enough, Bacon gets the essence of the self by means of distortion. That self is similar to Beckett’s, which is broken through a distorting narrative voice. And what we get is that unique sensation in Bacon, that ‘shorthand of sensation’ recalled by Fifield in his essay.


The multi-texture is clear in Beckett’s ‘I’ as well. The embodiment in Company is strange because it is estranged. The reader places him or herself within the body but keeping at a distance from it, partly because ‘I’ and ‘body’ are not fully identified. This estrangement is constructed continuously in Beckett’s text and perceived at once when we look at one of Bacon’s portraits. His self-portraits are particularly close to Beckett’s ‘I’, given the amount of autobiographical content in Company’s voice of memory. Regarding this narrative voice, the reader should not worry about what to take as real or not as all fragments, all voices –all the brushstrokes in the artist’s self-portraits– are equally valid in a context that leaves no place for objectivity. What is more, it could be said that the damaged, the deformed, is preferable as it is more human and also more ‘real’. An approach to the Beckettian deforming narrative voice can be helpful for the reader to better comprehend the final warping of the self, which has a lot of Beckett himself.


Bacon’s isolated faces and bodies are tangled and messy, warped and sick. So there is tension or distress in the body with itself, its presence in an obscure world because it lacks the harmony of unity:


El cuerpo – en la obra de Bacon – se hace carne, se desacraliza, se presenta como espasmo, rompe con la armonía de la superficie y de la forma en un ser amenazado por su propia indefinición, esto es, por la dispersión de su identidad. Un cuerpo que se descompone, que escapa por una boca que grita, que se vacía, se prolonga en los torrentes de semen, se dilata, se mezcla con otros cuerpos, se metamorfosea en su reflejo. (Vásquez 2012: 3)


Funnily enough, the coarser his bodies are given to us, the weaker and more human they result. As Peter Fifield puts it, “In Bacon and Beckett the human form is given through emphasis and exaggeration of the curved, the swollen and the bulbous” (Fifield 2009: 58). However, that ‘human form’ is human presence that has to be liberated from the common human form we are used to see. The liberation is reached through emphasis of the bended and the bloated. The reader can say it is a human being, life, what is being painted –with words or with brushstrokes.


Both artists are talking about what they are not sure it can be talked about as it is even difficult to comprehend. This first chapter opened saying that Company’s title was contradictory because the novella is, after all, the lack of company, isolation of the self, who has no company. The subject does not have company even from his own voice, from his own self, as its perception is not clear. There is a lack of content. A subject is being portrayed but that subject is not there. Nevertheless, for us the question to be considered here is nicely put by Milan Kundera in his essay “Une rencontre” (2009), which I quote in its Spanish translation: “¿hasta qué grado de distorsión un individuo sigue siendo él mismo?” (Kundera 2009: 20). The face is distorted and one beholds the most intimate ‘I’: Bacon’s raw self. But it is difficult to say what one’s identity is when the self has been broken, fragmented into several ‘I’s and memory and imagination are equally valid, as happens in Company. There, the subject ends being unnamable: “Let him be again as he was. The hearer. Unnamable. You” (Beckett 2009: 20)


Kundera’s question is somehow answered by means of an element that is repeated in all the self-portraits by Bacon: there is always certain tension that presents the tension of life itself. The tension of a depiction that deforms (almost dissolving) the individuality means that identity is brought to its limit and results in a vibrant and arresting portrait.


Por mucho que legue a la deformación, los personajes de Bacon resultan reconocibles e identificables. El proceso de representación se debate siempre en esa tensión, que busca aquel momento conflictivo en que la presencia parece a punto de disolverse, pero aún no ha perdido del todo los rasgos que la distinguen. (Hunter 2009: 60)


That extreme presence that is about to be dissolved, that pursuit of sensation is not so pictorially represented in Beckett. Nonetheless, in his work, as in Bacon’s, identity is not totally destroyed. There is an attempt to grasp the core element of raw identity, naked existence once liberated from its own skin. Identity suffers a process of abstraction in both Beckett and Bacon. Bacon’s bodies and faces and Beckett’s metafiction are maintained in that tension that allows the individual to keep his or her own identity. Tension is an essential element for both artists to represent individuals –‘I’s– the way they perceive them.




Alienating, Broken Voices


The incapability to communicate as a result of the fragmented self and the consequent alienation of the individual is a chief theme in Modernism in general. Edvard Munch’s The Scream (1895) portrays the angst that one can feel as a consequence of this alienation. As for American Modernist Fiction, a considerable number of Faulkner’s characters embody this inability to communicate, with the clear example of Benjy Compson in The Sound and the Fury (1929): “I opened the gate and they stopped, turning. I was trying to say, and I caught her, trying to say, and she screamed and I was trying to say and trying arid the bright shapes began to stop and I tried to get out” (Faulkner 2010: 33). Benjy struggles to communicate but he fails. As a result, his perception of the world is also damaged, blurred. The lack of communication, the distorted language, limits his perception of reality. Company presents the same panorama. Furthermore, just as no one seems to care about whether Benjy speaks or not, Beckett’s individual is alienated and inactive, lacking all human contact. His presence does not seem to be relevant for anyone else, at least from the voice’s perspective, from what we know through the narrative voice. Beckett and Bacon share that consciousness of triviality of one’s existence. However, that is not where the most distressing part of it lies. Company brings the panorama to its limits denying the possibility of communicating with oneself. Both physical and psychical interactions are problematic. Thus, in Beckett, the lack of communication isolates the person even from himself or herself. At the same level, something similar can be observed in Bacon’s individuals. The painter does not have narrative voice(s) to express the condition of alienation of the subject and yet his portraits inspire the deepest feeling of isolation and remoteness, which is stressed by the fact that most of the people depicted in his paintings are completely alone and framed.


Additionally, chaos is a shared element in the ‘broken’ world Faulkner, Beckett and Bacon –among other many Modernist artists– depict, which is the chaotic view of reality of man in the 20th century, coming with the end of Modernity. Another indispensable example is another foremost modernist, James Joyce, who will be considered again later. In the novel that is considered to be his masterpiece, Ulysses (1922), his representation of chaos as an essential part of the broken man is very clear. This chaos is brought by the polyphonic, stream-of-consciousness voices of Joyce’s individuals resounding in the city, which are, like Beckett’s voices, “anonymous, obscure in their attachment to the ‘I’” (Oppenheim 2000: 103-4). In Joyce, and especially in Beckett, the reader never knows at which point one voice ends and another starts. “By fragmenting or fizzling voices, by rendering them anonymous yet also attached to the self […] [w]e cannot individuate them” (Oppenheim 2000: 103). This reflects the chaotic dimension of existence, of bare life, which impedes communication with others and with oneself.


Is there a voice in Company? Are there several voices? If so, where is the line separating them? Are they talking only to the body? When looking at this body, this ‘I’ in the dark, the reader cannot help thinking of possible others, those others that appear in Ulysses. In Company, the lack of presence of others, or the incapability of meeting other selves, makes us think of those others and the probability of their presence. What is more, the Beckettian subject’s own alienation leads him or her to ask about possible others, other ‘I’s: Beckett leads us to a paradoxical ethics of non-relation that appears very close to the ethics of distance that Emmanuel Levinas was elaborating at the same time, paradoxical because the relation with the other is founded on a non-relation, since the face of the other person always reveals an infinite distance. The term of ‘nonrelation’ destroys from the outset the humanistic illusion that we are all alike, or that reciprocity is a given. On the contrary, it is because we are all infinitely different that a new rapport can be thought. (Rabaté 2014: 142)




Aesthetics of the Figure and the Space


Open your eyes now. I will. One moment. Has all vanished since? If I open and am for ever in the black adiaphane. Basta! I will see if I can see.7 Modernism is a lot about perception, in all its faces. Beckett’s Company shares this Modernist interest but narrows it down to the perception of the self. When we read the novella we picture a man —or better a body and voices, no clear attachments implied— in the darkness, which means that we do not really picture anything in particular as there is only blackness. Therefore visual perception, sight, which has traditionally been considered as the superior sense in epistemology, is rendered useless and therefore primary sensorial perception is hindered.



Figures Lying in the Dark


The reader starts reading Company and all he or she sees is a bulk in the middle of blackness and as part of that blackness. Company is dark. There is a body, there is an ‘I’, and there is darkness, shadow: “Basalt is tempting. Black basalt. […] If with none then no light from the voice on the place where our old hearer lies. In immensurable dark. Contourless.” (Beckett 2009: 21). The author comes back once and again to the black so that the reader can plunge into that dimness in order to feel the same way the body does. The reader has trouble trying to picture a figure lying in the dark, but (s)he soon embodies that same figure. Apparently a specific body accompanied by a voice or group of voices talking to it, but also a body which every human being can ‘occupy’. In other words, every person can be within that skin. The same happens with Francis Bacon’s representation of people, even in his self-portraits, already discussed in the previous section; they represent specific people but one can see him or herself among the diverse shots building a face or a body as they depict the purest and rawest humanity after all.


Perception of the subject in Company is determined by an essential condition apart from this darkness and obscurity: the body is lying, necessarily lying “on his back in the dark” (Beckett 2009: 3). This position leaves the figure in a cognitive relation with the space different from that he would have if he were standing up or sitting down. This condition can recall other cases in Modernist narrative like the one in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis (1915). In this book, when Gregor Samsa wakes up in a body that is his but estranged and metamorphosed, he is lying down. He goes through a process of perception of his new physical self from his lying position. And Kafka presents, again, a broken self in his novella. Right before Gregor starts moving, there is a long moment of silence, while lying down, when time is blurred. Gregor’s body seems to be detached from time.


It is in his lying position that Gregor starts to fragmentally perceive his body and, later, his new voice with terror. Even if The Metamorphosis has a metaphorical or even socio-political connotation and Company has a more abstract look, both introduce a lying figure whose voice is apart or estranged, Gregor’s being the ‘exterior’ one. He is shocked when he hears his own metamorphosed voice:


[T]he clock struck quarter to seven. There was a cautious knock at the door near his head. “Gregor”, somebody called – it was his mother – “it’s quarter to seven. Didn’t you want to go somewhere?” That gentle voice! Gregor was shocked when he heard his own voice answering, it could hardly be recognised as the voice he had had before. As if from deep inside him, there was a painful and uncontrollable squeaking mixed in with it, the words could be made out at first but then there was a sort of echo which made them unclear, leaving the hearer unsure whether he had heard properly or not. (Kafka 2005: I)


We do not know how long Gregor Samsa is lying down, but it is a fact that he has something in common with Beckett’s lying figure: both their bodies are passive. Their only activity, especially in Company, is perception; the rest is therefore passivity or lack of movement, lack of life. Your mind never active at any time is now even less than ever so. This is the type of assertion he does not question. You saw the light on such and such a day and your mind never active at any time is now less active than ever so. (Beckett 2009: 4)


Your mind never active at any time is now even less than ever so. This is the type of assertion he does not question. You saw the light on such and such a day and your mind never active at any time is now less active than ever so. (Beckett 2009: 4)


However, “certain activity” (Beckett 2009: 4) is registered in Company, a slight one that is perception, hearing the voice, scrutinising darkness. That perception is the so-called ‘company’, “mental activity of a low order” (Beckett 2009: 29). The voice as only and necessary – although never sufficient– company can be observed in the context of isolation of the subject, which is another condition of the body in the dark. As far as the subject is concerned, he or she is isolated, with the only company of voice. The two texts, though quite different, make use of the lying position so that the subject can face himself, both physically and in terms of existence. Or an estranged self, that is.


Something similar can be said about Francis Bacon’s lying bodies. They are passive and isolated in the dark. However, even though they are sometimes sleeping (fig. 11), which could be conceived as a peaceful state, there is no harmonic relation to the figure’s surroundings. The figure is physically confronting himself or herself and his or her own existence. Because of the tension of the body and the inherent violence of the representation, the figure is a misfit in the space, in the world, and it is therefore in agony.




The Eye Straining for Life in the Dark


In Company sensual perception focuses on hearing and, later, as light appears, sight. The reader’s sources are an inner ear that hears voices and an eye that ‘sees’ a dark space. The eye is as important element in Beckett as it is in Bacon. In the Irish painter’s Self- Portrait with Injured Eye (1972) (fig. 3) his obsession with the eye is patent. He uses a closed swollen eye as the axis that unchains the deformation of the entire face. Thus, from the eye, the whole face is distorted. Beckett leaves a special place for the eye in his text too:


There is of course the eye. Filling the whole field. The hood slowly down. Or up if down to begin. The globe. All pupil. Staring up. Hooded. Bared. Hooded again. Bared again. (Beckett 2009: 12)


The damaged state of the sense of sight has already been mentioned in the introduction to this second chapter. The eye cannot work properly due to the lack of light. This can be explained by its connection to traditional symbolism of light and darkness. Traditionally, light means truth and that truth cannot happen in the darkness we find in Beckett and Bacon. Is the eye not the only element that is not completely blurred, that gives a hint of profound and abysmal presence? “Only eyelids move” (Beckett 2009: 29). Is it not its moisturising necessity what shows us life? These questions are here posed with reference to Beckett’s novella but in universal terms as well, being as they are about human beings in general. It is interesting to confirm that the eye in Company has the same intensity as the eye in some of Bacon’s portraits. The two artists are communicating the same, life, even if the eyes are closed.




Raw Life in an Undefined Space


Every word said by the voice in Beckett’s novella conveys certain lyricism. The way it talks about the eye, the light, the memories… every aspect of movement and life becomes art in Company. Life has an intrinsic beauty in it, even if it is in the middle of chaos. Life should be art. Here we find something similar to the Nietzschean affirmation of life:


Nietzsche estetiza la vida, no en el sentido burgués, sino en el sentido de que la vida misma sea una obra de arte. Sólo así el arte podrá generar novedades y no morir. El arte así pensado no es un fin, sino un instrumento que hay que llevar más allá, puesto que debe estar al servicio de la vida. Una vida que se concibe no ya como una infinitud a alcanzar sino como un finito ilimitado (o sobrepliegue), visible tras la fractura de la visión del mundo unitario. (Álvarez 2012: 11)


What really interests Beckett in Company is that life, and the isolated condition of the living body. Sometimes that perception of oneself does not go further towards the consideration of presence and existence as it happens with Existentialist authors such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, or the abovementioned Franz Kafka. Even though questions about existence are sown, Beckett sticks to the question of perception. And this perception, although complex, is direct and penetrating as a portrait by Bacon can be. Violently and heartrendingly Bacon’s work gives an insight that utterly moves us. Bacon’s brushstrokes have the power of Beckett’s second person singular voice in Company –“use of the second person marks the voice” (Beckett 2009: 3) –; they are rough and unrefined as the voice is sharp and undressed. Both artists leave us facing a lying figure in an undefined space. Consequently, they leave us lying on our own, scrutinising darkness. In the case of some of Bacon’s paintings, the isolated figure is there, in a space where it does not fit at all. The tension grows between the ‘I’ and the place the ‘I’ is, in spite of himself, framed in. As a consequence of that tension, the figure cannot be fully framed. This is very clear in one of Bacon’s lying figures, Sleeping Figure (fig. 11): “El pintor explota la relación figura/espacio. […] [E]l personaje aparece atrapado por su actitud, aplastado contra […] la cama como si fuese un resto de sí mismo, su sola presencia inanimada y moldeada por la presión del espacio circundante sobre ella” (Hunter 2009: 33). There is an obvious tension produced by the relation between the body and the space, and yet the space is unavoidable. Even if the space is undefined, it is needed if a portrait has to be made. Bacon’s spaces are essential to frame his portraits.


The same happens with space in Beckett’s Company. And, I dare say, was this not the same portraying activity carried out by James Joyce, the fellow countryman of both artists? As another Irish Modernist novelist, Joyce made an attempt at grasping just life through “unadorned portraits of the human presence” (Hale 1993: 97) in his writing, especially in his Ulysses. Nevertheless, the portrait of humans, of life, is given to us within a different frame since space changes. The city —Dublin as a microcosm—, acts as a constant movement of gyres, were lives are intermingled in an ordered chaos. That clashes with Beckett’s darkness and absence of space. And yet it is not that obvious that the contrast is so radical. While Joyce explored the impossibility of communication, the individual within the continuous urban movement, the musicality of the variety of Dubliners living parallel and juxtaposed lives, Beckett writes about the impossibility of communication of the self, blurred multiple voices and so on. All in all, he writes about the complexity of the ‘I’.


That ‘I’ can be whoever, but, at the same time, it is a definite and somehow unique self. As it has already been said, presence in Beckett is extreme and powerful. Aesthetics throughout the text is hence quite strong and unique. A blurred but at the same time determined self embodies that presence, the text itself. It is blurred due to the lack of light, the multiplicity of voices that appears to be coming from that light, the undefined space or lack of space. The reader pictures a sort of dim room that can be compared to the rooms where some of Bacon’s naked figures are drawn. This can be easily observed in works such as Study from the Human Body or Untitled (Crouching Nude) (fig.8-10). All of those whitish bodies are found in a placeless room. Some straight lines form a geometrical, linear but also undefined container for a violently and distressingly curved body that could be said to be fighting against itself. The lack of definition of the space is stressed by the colours black, grey and ochre at the background. In addition, sometimes the angst is reinforced by means of the use of red. It can be stated that conflict is a key point in Bacon’s bodies and colour and form work together to produce that conflictive nature.


Surprisingly, it is a determined self in a specific body, with specific experiences in the past that can be brought to mind in this undetermined space, even if everything is blurred. This can be thought if we take that there is just one self, one subject. In Beckett’s text, there is a huge part of the discourse, or attempt of discourse, that is memories, Beckett’s memories as he left them. The autobiographic elements are clear. Again, the reader feels lost trying to draw a line separating the defined and undefined when reading Company and looking at Bacon’s work.


Aesthetically, Company is all about that presence, human presence in the dark, what has already been referred to as ‘raw humanity’. This humanity conveys a violence and extreme way of being, presence. That violence of being stands out in Bacon’s portraits. Each line seems to be fighting against another; the rough brushstrokes were spontaneously made, sometimes with rags, by the artist. The violence can be unjustified or unavoidable. Does the beauty lie in that confrontation? A terrible beauty is born in Bacon’s works. The face is full of life and, paradoxically, it is rotting. The same happens with the Beckettian subject: being full of life, being all existence on its mind, being absolute presence for one’s own, its death would not mean any significant change in the dark, even if that presence could be perceived as the most important element in that undefined space.



A Faintly Luminous Void


For the listener, who listens in the snow,

And, nothing himself, beholds

Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is. (Stevens 2001: lines 13-15)


The white nothingness perceived by Wallace Stevens’s snowman is the black nothingness perceived by the Beckettian hearer. However, there is a presence that is maintained in the novella thanks to the voice, which keeps talking to the ‘I’. Total absence is not allowed. The light in the text brightens the void, ‘enclosed’ within the undefined space, which we know about because there is an eye looking at what is being lit: “Whence the shadowy light? What company in the dark! To close the eyes and try to imagine that. Whence once the shadowy light. No source. As if faintly luminous all his little void” (Beckett 2009: 11). Light is masterly used by Beckett. The voices draw the ‘I’ and create light. As much as the body is eager for light, he will not get it but for the voice, and for the eye that gives access to the produced light that grows with the voice.


Just as Beckett’s ‘black nothingness’ is briefly broken by this shadowy light, Francis Bacon’s monochromatic paintings – see most of the bodies in the Appendix to this article – are also faintly lit by some sort of shadowy light and in some cases by a lamp or a dangling light bulb (fig. 11). In Untitled (Crouching Nude) (fig. 10), for instance, this is patent. The combination of blue, grey, black, and ochre – all dark lines – tends to a monochromatic blackness, a “bourneless dark”, as Beckett would say (Beckett 2009: 33). However, in that blurred colour that tends to black in Bacon’s work there is a curved line, a violent white that acts as Beckett’s light, defining the undefinable and at the same time highlighting that lack of definition. The body in distress is emphasised as it conveys powerful presence. The sensation of the contrasted white that forms a body is made through great tension, as happens with the curvature of all the white lines that seems to be pushing against the straight lines that create darkness. The other contrasting colour is red, which just adds fierceness and chaos.


Some mention should be made to the lack of adaptation of the body to the space, somewhere in the void. Even in Study from the Human Body (fig. 9), in which the figure is slender like a harmonic white sculpture, the body does not fit. The figure is clearly leaving, evaporating after a shaded curtain. As an exception, that body is straight and standing up, whereas the rest are lying down as Beckett’s nameless figure, or bending with angst. However, all of them are the same, misfits, inappropriate.


Physical darkness on the body’s surroundings somehow mirrors the obscurity of perception of oneself going on in Beckett’s novella. Indeed, in both Company’s body and Bacon’s bodies the inner obscurity is extended to the space the body is lying in. “La figura parece surgir de la penumbra del fondo como un espectro” (Hunter 2009: 65). The white wraith is in reality full of life. Actually, it is life itself in a placeless darkness, an “equal remoteness at its most remote” (Beckett 2009: 20). The movement that the figure transmits is a result of the tension, the intrinsic tension of existence. “You were once. You were never. Were you ever?” (Beckett 2009: 12). The nostalgic memories in the novella are counteracted by the inquisitive second person voice asking disturbing questions which do not have an answer.


There is tension in both artists; tension between a white light and blackness, between the body and the space, between real memories and fiction in Beckett’s novella, between straight and curved brushstrokes in Bacon’s paintings. In Beckett’s short novel, there is even tension between the title word, ‘company’, and the ending word, ‘alone’. I think that we can state that the aesthetics of both artists is one of disturbing tension within an abysmal void.


All in all, Beckett shows in Company his own understanding of the self by means of a man lying down, “on his back in the dark” (Beckett 2009: 3) and a voice or a collage of voices supposedly addressing him. The limited perception of the subject allows the author to express his ideas on the individual and his/her distressing way of existing in the world. The Beckettian self is broken and fails to communicate. The voice that the individual and the reader hear throughout the novella draws a broken and alienated self, deficient in communication. That voice is unreliable. Actually, everything is unreliable. If the self, identity, cannot be trusted and everything goes around the ‘I’, nothing can really be trusted, not even the knowledge about oneself.


On the other hand, Francis Bacon’s self follows the Beckettian path but his perception is soaked with violence and his fragmentation is brought further to deformation. Bacon’s selves transmit that raw dimension of the bulging body in a permanent fight against itself. If Bacon’s painting adds his own fierceness to Company’s perception of an individual, Beckett has enhanced the fragmentation of the ‘I’ by means of highlighting the impossibility of communication.


Both an intellectual and an aesthetical look on perception are needed in order to get the point of the written and painted material of the present study. There are many points where the two artists meet: the isolated ‘I’, the distorted perception, the all surrounding void, etc. It is the two artists’ terrible tension that generates that unique sensation of extreme, raw life that is as universal as is talking about human condition. If the tension of contrast is very visual and clear in Bacon, it is differently perceived in Beckett’s Company as it is built up via word relations instead of brushstrokes of colour. Nevertheless, both artists leave us with the same intense sensation every human can feel identified with, sensation of experiencing life itself. This could be put as the most important conclusion here: by means of two different languages, Beckett and Bacon make use of extreme existence, the heartrending tension that is necessary to express life. Human existence is suffering, isolation and anguish but still it is an art expression, full of beauty. Like Bacon’s paintings, Beckett’s Company is the expression of that man of the 20th century, living in the degeneration of an era of developments, in the death of Modernity. Because of the clash between the ideas and reality, the concept of the latter oscillates and turns into fragments. There is not unity, or light, or truth any more as it is reflected with the subject’s self-conscience, as this Cubist piece by Beckett proves. Both the writer and the painter expose their different faces with the intention of covering the real, which includes now that which is left in the shadow because of the existence of raw life in the darkness. Even if we are condemned by that darkness to void.







Álvarez, Marta. 2012. El cuerpo sin órganos en Francis Bacon. Trabajo de iniciación a la investigación no publicado. Universidad de Valladolid - Santander

Beckett, Samuel. 2009. Company / Ill Seen Ill Said / Worstward Ho / Stirrings Still. Ed. Dirk Van Hulle. London: Faber and Faber

Beckett, Samuel. 2011. “Letter to MacGreevy, 26 September [1948]”, The Letters of Samuel Beckett, volume II: 1941-1956. Ed. George Craig, Martha Dow Fehsenfeld, Dan Gunn and Lois More Overbeck. Cambridge [etc.]: Cambridge University Press. 104-106

Croke, Fionnuala (ed.). 2006. Samuel Beckett: A Passion for Paintings. Dublin: National Gallery of Ireland

Deleuze, Gilles. 2005. Francis Bacon: Lógica de la sensación. Trad. Isidro Herrera. 2nd ed. Madrid: Arena Libros

Faulkner, William. 2010. The Sound and the Fury. New York: Vintage International, 1984

Ficacci, Luigi, Francis Bacon. Trad. Carme Franch Ribes. Köln: Taschen

Fifield, Peter. 2009. “Gaping Mouths and Bulging Bodies: Beckett and Francis Bacon”. Journal of Beckett Studies. Vol. 18, Sept 2009. 57-71

Gontarski, Stan (ed.). 2014. The Edinburgh Companion to Samuel Beckett and the Arts. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press

Hale, Jane. 1993. “Framing the Unframable: Samuel Beckett and Francis Bacon”. Pp. 95-102, in Marius Buning y Lois Oppenheim (eds.): Beckett in the 1990s. Amsterdam: Rodopi

Hunter, Sam. 2009. Francis Bacon. Barcelona: Ediciones Polígrafa

Joyce, James. 2000. Ulysses. Intro. Declan Kiberd. London: Penguin Classics

Kafka, Franz. 2005. The Metamorphosis. Trans. David Wyllie. The Project Gutenberg; August 16, 2005.

Katz, Daniel. 1999. Saying I No More: Subjectivity and Conciousness in the Prose of Samuel Beckett. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press

Kundera, Milan. 2009. Un encuentro. Barcelona: Tusquets

Oppenheim, Lois. 2000. The Painted Word. Samuel Beckett’s Dialogue with Art. Michigan: The University of Michigan Press

Rabaté, Jean-Michel. 2014. “Beckett’s Masson: From Abstraction to Non-relation”. Pp. 131-145, in Stan Gontarski (ed): The Edinburgh Companion to Samuel Beckett: Edinburgh University Press

Sartre, Jean-Paul. 1967. El hombre y las cosas. Trad. Luis Echávarri, 3rd edition. Buenos Aires: Losada

Stevens, Wallace. 2001. “The Snow Man”, Harmonium. London: Faber and Faber

Vásquez Rocca, Dr. Adolfo. 2012. “Francis Bacon; la deriva del yo y el desgarro de la carne”. Revista Observaciones Filosóficas, 13 Jan. 2012. Accessed 30 June 2016




                                   Figure 1: Francis Bacon, Self-Portrait, 1973





                                 Figure 4: Francis Bacon, Self-Portrait, 1971




Francis Bacon, Enigmatic Painter of Howling Popes, Lived a Life on the Edge








From a small London studio littered ankle-deep with source material, bottles of fine champagne, and a cacophony of paint splatters, Francis Bacon conjured some of the most innovative and, as art critic Robert Melville once put it, “satanically influential” paintings of the 20th century. His canvases writhe with fleshy, screaming, contorted figures, from popes and famed art-historical subjects to friends and ill-fated lovers. His searing work embodies a host of post-war cultural anxieties, as well as Bacon’s personal demons and obsessions.

But what was this mighty, enigmatic painter’s secret to creating such spellbinding imagery—and, all the while, upholding his status as king of the bon vivants? Below, we pull back the curtain on who Bacon was, what motivated his deeply affecting paintings, and why their sulphurous power won’t be fading anytime soon.

Who Was Francis Bacon?

Bacon was a complex man whose work was informed by a tangled web of intense relationships, art-historical fixations, and a fair number of vices. Born in Dublin in 1909 to a domineering father, Capt. Anthony Edward Mortimer, and his much younger wife, Christina Winifred Firth, Bacon was derided as a “weakling” and, as legend has it, horse-whipped by his father during his youth due to issues with chronic asthma. At 17, he was kicked out of the family home for good when he was discovered trying on his mother’s underwear.

But despite (or perhaps because of) his asthmatic bouts and the abuse he endured, Bacon was strong-willed and resilient, with the constitution of a bull. He drank, ate, gambled, loved, and painted with such voraciousness that he rarely had time for sleep; two to three hours a night was typical. Through this haze of debauchery and hard living, and bolstered by deep friendships and aesthetic obsessions, Bacon produced a cascade of paintings that were not only disturbingly beautiful, but also boldly original. His shocking work galvanized the group of painters surrounding him in mid-century London (the “School of London”) and eventually influenced several generations of artists to come, including Damien Hirst, Jenny Saville, and Jake and Dinos Chapman, to name just a few.

What Inspired Him?

After Bacon was jettisoned from his family home, he embarked on a series of European escapades that opened his eyes to art and design, not to mention other earthly pleasures, like sex and wine. Several works he encountered during his travels made a lasting impact on his work and wouldn’t leave his mind until his death in 1992.

While studying French near Chantilly in 1927, he happened upon Poussin's great Massacre of the Innocents (1628–29) and was struck by the emotional agony of the scene, embodied forcefully in the screaming maw of a mother whose child is about to be killed. Later that year, he picked up a book detailing diseases of the mouth, and not long after that, he watched Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 film Battleship Potemkin, which features a scene of a howling, bloodied nurse—an image permanently tattooed on his mind. Around that time, on a trip to Paris, he was also introduced to Picasso’s early figurative drawings. All these run-ins provided Bacon with his initial art education (he was never formally trained) and went on to influence his unique approach to rendering the human body as a malleable—and, at times, grotesque—vessel of raw human feeling.

The wide-open mouth would later materialize in some of the painter’s greatest canvases: his series of wailing popes, which he toiled over from 1949 until 1971. They show blurred, bethroned men caught in the act of an intense and seemingly eternal scream that, as Bacon biographer Michael Peppiatt has said, might have referred simultaneously to the militaristic orders of Bacon’s father, the raging rows between Bacon and his tortured lover Peter Lacy, or more simply, to a cry of fear or the climax of a body-quaking orgasm. This was the rare power of Bacon’s work: fusing a range of references into a Frankenstein’s monster of a whole, a beast shuddering with frustration, tension, and countless other, subtler emotions.

Bacon’s “Popes” also reveal another influence:  Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1650), a painting Bacon became so infatuated with that he admitted to having a “crush” on it. Time and time again, Bacon would rework his own version of the masterpiece, although, interestingly, he refused to see the painting in person when he finally made a trip to Rome. He was embarrassed, he told Peppiatt, of his many “stupid” manipulations of the piece.

Alongside the many other great artists (Giacometti, van Gogh, and Matisse among them) who influenced Bacon, the painter also looked for creative guidance in the work of writers and poets—namely Racine, Baudelaire, and Proust. He was attracted to their ability to pare down the complexities of human existence into succinct lines and phrases; he sought to do the same with the arresting figures rooted at the core of his canvases.

How Did He Work?

Reproductions of Bacon’s inspirations—like the Massacre of the Innocents, along with tattered photos of wild animals, Egyptian talismans, and more—ended up in a soupy jumble on the floors of the many studios he occupied over the course of his career. The exuberant mess was accented with paint and the occasional vestiges of parties he hosted after a long night of carousing through London’s drinking clubs and gambling houses. One of Bacon’s friends, the painter Graham Sutherland, once described Bacon’s early Cromwell Place studio as “a large chaotic place, where the salad bowl was likely to have paint on it and the painting to have salad dressing on it.”

But for all his decadence, Bacon was also extremely dedicated, with his own brand of regimentation. “You have to be disciplined in everything, even in frivolity,” he was known to have said. “Above all in frivolity.” Indeed, his passion for enthusiastic and prolonged socialization seemed to fuel his work. Without fail, after a late night of partying, he would wake up at 6 a.m. to paint for several hours in the morning light. Then he’d begin dining and boozing about town, liaising with his many friends and acquaintances, from fellow painters Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach to renowned London collectors, such as the Sainsbury’s, to one of his many lovers, like Lacy or Eric Hall. He even went so far as to say that he worked better after a night of drinking: “My mind simply crackles with electricity after one of those evenings,” he once boasted to his friends. “I think the drink actually makes me freer.”

There were some risks to this routine, however. On several occasions, he’d come home late at night, wildly drunk, and decide to “perfect” a painting he’d finished the day before, only to wake up the next morning and discover that he’d ruined it. After one of these episodes, his gallery began collecting his paintings from his studio the moment he finished them.

Bacon’s childhood nanny, Jessie Lightfoot, who lived with the painter until her death in 1951, and his two primary dealers—first Erica Brausen at Hanover Gallery, then Valerie Beston at Marlborough Gallery—also played major roles in helping organize his life and career. When Bacon was struggling financially during his youth, Lightfoot helped him find lovers who would also provide financial support. Brausen became a close friend and confidante; they bonded over their shared homosexuality and appetites for risk-taking (Bacon’s on the canvas; Brausen’s on the walls of her gallery). And starting in 1958, Miss Beston, as she was affectionately called, arranged almost all of Bacon’s day-to-day logistics during his most successful years. She paid his bills, arranged his calendar, made sure his apartment stayed clean, and kept him to his painting schedule. She also kept his canvases out of the trash bin, as he was known to destroy them.

Why Does His Work Matter?

Bacon brought new emotional intensity to the painted figure by representing his subjects—be they friends or mythological figures—as contorted, fleshy, emotionally open masses. He sought to reveal, in all its complexity, what was behind the human facade. “I would like my pictures to look as if a human being had passed between them, like a snail leaving its trail of the human a snail leaves its slime,” he once said. Indeed, Bacon’s paintings pulsate with the dual energy of human suffering and ecstasy. They seem to unearth, in their blurred limbs and wide-open mouths, our most primal urges. (Scholars have noted that in his canvases from the 1950s, monkeys and men often closely resemble one another.)

In his life and work, Bacon embodied and fed off extremes. “The core of Bacon’s genius,” Peppiatt has said, “lay in his ability to straddle these extreme contradictions and translate (or sublimate) them into instantly recognizable images whose characteristic tension derives from a life lived on the edge.” As Bacon once put it: “You have to go too far to go far enough—only then can you hope to break the mould and make something new.”

Alexxa Gotthardt is a Staff Writer at Artsy.



                                     Henri Cartier-Bresson, Francis Bacon, London, 1971





Life through a lens



Celebrated photographer John Minihan on some of his most famous photos







Celebrated photographer John Minihan tells Des O’Driscoll about some of his most famous pictures.

THERE is nobody in Ireland who has photographed — or possibly even met — such an array of famous figures as John Minihan. A teenage Diana Spencer, a wizened Samuel Beckett, an edgy young band named The Who, and countless others have ended up in iconic photographs as a result of posing for Minihan’s trusty Rolleiflex camera.

As a photographer with the Daily Mail and Evening Standard in London, Minihan had access to many of the world’s news-makers. And, through friendships he forged, often in the drinking dens of Soho or via his own interest in the arts, he regularly managed to breach the divide between news snapper and subject.

And yet, despite the world of royals and super celebs Minihan mixed in, it’s the photographs he took through the years in his home town of Athy that are still the most important to him.

Now 70 and resident in West Cork, he is as passionate as ever about his craft and is still taking pictures. Minihan’s collection has also been acquired by UCC. Here, we select just a few examples from that hugely important archive.

“As an apprentice on the Daily Mail I was getting very little money and as a means to earn a little extra I’d go to the clubs in Soho — Flamingo Club, Ronnie Scotts, The Marquee — and I’d photograph the bands.



“Myself and [Irish journalist] Stan Gebler Davies used to love drinking together in the clubs and bars around Soho. I first saw Francis Bacon in the Colony Room; he was loud, very brash and everybody wanted to be around him. I was introduced to him through Stan, who knew him quite well, and I started photographing him in 1971

I spotted a story one morning in the Daily Telegraph that said: ‘Irish painter on drugs charge’. In London, if you win the Nobel Prize for Literature, you’re British, if you’re up on drugs charges, you’re Irish!

I went straight down to the Marlborough Street magistrates court where I met Francis getting out of a taxi. His then boyfriend had got very jealous and had planted a substance and called the police. He was acquitted and I went back to Soho with him to celebrate. I got this picture of him with Burroughs when Burroughs came to London in 1989 for an exhibition of his paintings.”




           Francis Bacon and William S. Burroughs outside The October Gallery on Old Gloucester Street, Bloomsbury, WC1 in 1989. Photograph by John Minihan 






Is Elaine Wynn’s $142 Million Francis Bacon Painting on Way to LA?






She reveals some details about the purchase in a new interview







Billionaire art collector Elaine Wynn has hinted, in an interview with Forbes, that the crown jewel of her blue-chip art collection, Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969), may go to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Wynn is the co-chair of the institution, along with investor and Apollo Global Management cofounder Tony Ressler.

She didn’t rule out the donation, instead saying “We’ll see!”

With a net worth estimated at $1.71 billion, Wynn took a number of valuable works away in her 2010 divorce from Las Vegas casino honcho Stephen A. Wynn, also a noted art collector. Forbes values her collection, also featuring other works and examples by Picasso and Manet, at $375 million.

Wynn was so determined to be low-profile about her acquisition of the Bacon, she tells Forbes, that she slinked into the preview exhibition of the work, at Christie’s New York, in sweats and a baseball cap. Her secrecy about the purchase, then the highest ever price paid at auction for any work of art, continued for two months, until the New York Times outed her as the buyer.

The $142 million paid for the three-panel painting remains the record price for a Bacon at auction, far outstripping the next-highest, the $86.3 million paid for another triptych, at Sotheby’s New York in 2008, according to the artnet Price Database.

Wynn experienced a considerable amount of anxiety related to the purchase, she tells Forbes: “First I was worried I’d want to buy it,” she says. “Then I was worried I might not get it.”





Elaine Wynn, Buyer Of $142 Million Painting, On Her Love Of Art









When Elaine Wynn first laid eyes on Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucian Freud triptych, she says she was “gobsmacked.” Wynn had quietly slipped into the Christie’s building in New York in November 2013 – just two days before the set of paintings was to be auctioned off  – cloaked in sweats and a baseball cap to discreetly inspect the masterpiece.

“First I was worried I’d want to buy it,” says Wynn. “Then I was worried I might not get it.”


Much to her delight, she won the auction with a bid of $142.4 million after commission. At the time, it was the highest price ever paid for a work of art at auction – a sum so staggering it could even bust a billionaire’s budget. “I had buyer’s remorse,” Wynn admits. “But only for 30 minutes.”


The purchase was the culmination of a lifelong love of art and aesthetics for Wynn, who spent four decades revitalizing the Las Vegas Strip as co-founder of both Wynn Resorts and, first, Mirage Resorts, where she helped put together the Bellagio’s unprecedented fine art gallery. Now she’s applying the same passion to her own private collection and to her role as co-chair of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where she is spearheading a $600 million campaign to build a striking new home for the museum’s permanent collection.


“The things I do, I do because they’re deep passions of mine,” says Wynn. “If I’m invested I’m all the way in.”


For that she can thank her mother, a self-taught pianist who instilled in Wynn a deep appreciation for the arts. Though she grew up admiring beautiful paintings, her middle-class family couldn’t afford to buy many of their own, Wynn says. But by the 1990s she and then-husband Steve Wynn had built a billion-dollar Vegas empire that included the Mirage and Treasure Island. The couple’s next crown jewel, the Bellagio, was designed to resemble an elegant European resort; Wynn found herself purchasing art worth millions of dollars – sums she never thought possible – to be displayed in its world-renowned gallery.


Primarily driven by Steve’s “more scholarly” approach, as Elaine describes it, the collection the couple amassed reads like a who’s who of the art world: Picasso, Monet, Matisse, van Gogh, Rembrandt, Warhol. Much of it was either sold to MGM Grand, along with the rest of Mirage Resorts, in 2000 or divvied up between the couple when they split (for the second time) in 2010.


These days she’s focused on building her own personal collection. Wynn calls her approach “visceral” and “instinctive,” making decisions based more on what makes her fall head over heels than what might turn a nice profit one day or what she can flip for a number of lesser works.


“My tastes are very eclectic,” Wynn says. “I’m not really worried about what’s the hot thing on the market right now.”


The result is a varied collection that Forbes estimates to be worth some $375 million, full of big names – besides the Bacon triptych, there’s Manet’s Portrait of Mademoiselle Suzette Lemaire and Freud’s The Painter Surprised By A Naked Admirer, for example – and lesser-known works like a set of paintings Wynn recently picked up in Cuba for less than $10,000.


She gushes about the “absolutely gorgeous” Cuban works the same way she fawns over the priceless Bacon triptych, which might explain why she has never really sold anything that she has purchased. And why, when asked about regrets, she can only recall pieces that she and Steve got rid of years ago that she now wishes they had kept, including van Gogh’s Peasant Woman Against a Background of Wheat and Turner’s Giudecca, La Donna della Salute and San Giorgio.


Wynn tends to take an active role in whatever she pursues (she’s the president of the Nevada State Board of Education and a board member of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts), so it’s no surprise that when a top museum came calling she took it up on the offer. At a friend’s insistence, she joined the board of LACMA in 2011, impressed by its director, Michael Govan, and his work with contemporary artist Michael Heizer (whose Levitating Mass exhibit adorns the rear of LACMA and who has spent decades developing the massive earth art sculpture, City, in the Nevada desert near Wynn’s home base of Las Vegas).


Then, last year, she was asked to take over the board as co-chair alongside Apollo Management cofounder Tony Ressler. “Since it involved building the new addition to our museum, I was very flattered and excited to say yes,” says Wynn.

She quickly got to work on the project, which calls for replacing a number of aging structures on the museum’s campus by 2023 with a sleek, charcoal building designed by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor. After helping to secure a $125 million commitment from Los Angeles County in 2014, Wynn kicked off a $475 million private fundraising drive with a $50 million personal pledge of her own last April. She says the new building is much needed, but also that the decision was “a little self-serving” because she hopes to one day donate some of her most cherished art to a museum.


“I was preferring to do that in a West Coast place to be consistent with where I have spent all my adult life,” Wynn says. “The prospect of having a beautiful addition to LACMA that could house this important work of art was in the back of my mind.”


Asked whether she’s referring to the headline-grabbing Bacon triptych – which currently graces the walls of her living room (“When I invite people over I lose them for the first ten minutes”) – she pauses and offers just the words you’d expect from a skilled fundraiser (or maybe a passionate collector who hates the thought of letting go of a masterpiece): “We’ll see!”






Francis Bacon: From Picasso to Velázquez






Francis Bacon: From Picasso to Velázquez

Guggenheim Bilbao

30 September 2016 - 8 January 2017










Francis Bacon: From Picasso to Velázquez at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, curated by Martin Harrison, is conceivably one of the most significant Bacon exhibitions to date. It features a number of paintings on which little is known and some that have never been exhibited. The exhibition is timely, occurring after the publication of the masterly five-volume catalogue raisonné (edited by Harrison), which unveiled these new or later works. Many Bacon exhibitions to date have focused on a core of well known works and so it is refreshing to see relatively unknown works, especially ‘Sea’ (c. 1953) and ‘Landscape near Malabata, Tangier’ (1963), and indeed forecasts exciting times ahead.

The exhibition is outstanding in the sheer range of work shown, surveying more than six decades of Bacon’s painting. While most are from Bacon’s later career, his earliest works from 1929 to 1933 are also exhibited. One of his erstwhile ‘crucifixions’ from 1933 is displayed, retitled as ‘After Picasso, ‘La Danse’ (1933), which we learn from the catalogue raisonné was never intended to be conceived of as a crucifixion. The relative technical simplicity of these early works makes the contrast with those from the mid-1940s stark. The rooms focus on different themes – ‘Human Cages’, ‘Isolated Figures’ and ‘Exposed Bodies’. One of the galleries showcases the power of his portraits, including self-portraits, all painted with ferocious intensity and stark simplicity. This is complemented by additions by Alberto Giacometti and Chaïm Soutine.

The focus of this exhibition is on the continental European, mainly Spanish, connection. Bacon’s Francophilia is noted here and, not least through the recent Monaco exhibition, ‘Francis Bacon, Monaco and French Culture’. However, acknowledgement of the influence of Spanish culture has been overdue. The influence of Pablo Picasso, especially his biomorphic bather forms of the late 1920s, which has been well documented, lasted for about a decade from 1933. The exhibition also features Picasso’s cubist works as well as those of his contemporaries, such as Juan Gris. The fragmentation of form, characteristic of these works, provides an interesting parallel with Bacon’s own aesthetic of distortion.

Velázquez’s ‘Portrait of Innocent X’ (1650), itself not present in the exhibition, was a landmark painting for Bacon, evident in his amassing of multiple copies of the painting in his studio. These were the basis of his inspiration for multiple works. Whilst declaring it to be one of the greatest paintings, he did not actually see it first-hand when visiting Rome, preferring instead to consult reproductions. The papal theme is explored in conventional portrayals by other artists, which collectively underscore the aberrance of Bacon’s pontiffs. Other religious works by a host of Spanish artists exhibited include José de Ribera, Francisco de Zurbarán and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. While their depictions contrast with Bacon apropos the religious tenor of ‘Saint Paul the Hermit’, ‘The Crucified Christ with a Donor’ and ‘Saint Peter in Tears’, they share with Bacon raw intensity brought about by the use of the pared down image of a spectral figure emerging out of darkness.

A separate room features Francisco de Goya’s ‘Tauromachy’ series of 1816, which served as a counterpart to and summary of Bacon’s overarching preoccupations with the shadow of death on life. Bacon spoke of his interest in bullfighting and painted a couple of bullfighting scenes in the 1960s. The final painting he worked on before his death is ‘Study of a Bull’ (1991).

One of the highlights of the show, and quite a thrill it is, is the virtual reality headset which reveals a three-dimensional view of Bacon’s studio (7 Reece Mews) and literally brings Bacon into the digital age. The opportunity for immersion into Bacon’s private space is an unexpected but welcome treat. This is part of a continuing trend to acknowledge the working practices of Bacon – his sketches, ‘drawings’, sources and other integral material aspects of his practice. The leather cases containing ‘detritus’ found in Reece Mews capture the vitality of his working environment and pinpoint his sources of creativity.













Why do we find sexuality a taboo subject in our culture? It is what creates life and yet can be a destructive force for many, a primordial unity for others and for all there is an element of sacrifice. The French call it La Petite Mort (The Little Death), Marcelle Hanselaar’s series of etchings by this name have been were an early influence on me. I feel much of life comes down to this tiny demise, figurative painting by the London School in particular Bacon and Freud capture this so well. 

Each relationship is structured differently and for conventional morality to get in the way of others happiness is ludicrous. For instance, it’s hard to believe not so long ago Homosexuality was not allowed, in fact it was illegal, as Francis Bacon’s work vividly demonstrates, during the creation of Reclining Woman 1961 (on display in this exhibition) the figure was suppose to be male, presumably his lover at the time, and in order to not be found out for his crimes he painted over the penis to make the figure appear female. This was the case with a number of his portraits up until the Sexual Offenses Act of 1967 allowed homosexual relationships in private. These works offer some exposure, revealing some things that are strange and difficult in our nature, yet I believe 

Bacon is so present in all his paintings, the canvas and the subject are reflections of himself, there is no distance between himself and the painting. The same could be said of his lovers, his willingness to express a violent space even in the most casual ways is not an intimidation, but an invitation. He wanted to  instigate the other, his way of seduction.

Though since Sigmund Freud the revelation that a person’s sexuality informs so much about their behaviour, the sexuality of Freud and Bacon standing in parallel opposition to each other, respectively extreme cases of both, Freud having potentially fathered 54 children (though only 14 of them confirmed publicly). Says something very fundamental about the way they see their subjects. For Freud he is like the observer, with a penetrating eye wishing to see his subject at their most vulnerable, to deeply understand them for the individuals they are. For Bacon he wishes to inspire his subjects for them to fight back at him, Freud wishing to subdue his subject.

"It’s true to say when you paint anything you are also painting not only the subject but you are also painting yourself as well as the object that your trying to record" - Francis Bacon

There is, I feel, in my father Peter Fuller’s perception of Bacon a fear of the humiliation of his gaze, and to meet Bacon would in itself be a violent act without any physical manifestations taking place. The mutilation that would occur in the mind alone would be enough to warrant a skepticism of his work. My father saw a threat in Bacon’s pictures, that he thought only a concern with the grotesque could entertain. And he walked with this weight, the underlying value that their cannot be dignity in roughness. I don’t believe roughness should be shied away from, but wholly embraced in order to fully live.

Here is where me and my father differ, on painters like Bacon, roughness, adrenaline, immediacy are all vital parts to an actors craft. An actor has only their humanity to bear, it’s all they have to offer, even in the flesh, skin deep, blood flowing moment the actor finds their true self and that is what they bring to the world. Immediacy and sponteity are key aspects to Bacon’s work. In acting there is a necessary ugliness, not in order to shock but in order to reveal, the best actors are emotionally naked, they’ve put themselves bare faced onto the world’s stage, their ideas, their feelings and their unique individual song and if they’ve stayed the course they’ve been subject to all the ridicule the Western world has to offer in its competitive nature and still they stand in front of the camera lens, brave and naked. Daniel Day-Lewis said that it is "very hard to have any dignity as an actor" though he has tried for both, and in contradiction has revealed his soul through the life of another. There’s this idea that actors are like meat puppets or narcissists, and all that they say is in order to sell themselves, and yes indeed the profession does attract many people like this, but the truly great actors know that there is not enough of their own humanity to bear to fill the void of the swelling mob as they seek love in another, and humility in the face of this is their only option, a constant, unending sacrifice of dignity, all the while struggling to pick it back up. I feel this same dichotomy is present in Bacon’s pictures and in our relationship to sexuality.

Bacon said that he would to have liked to make some films towards the end of his life, painting solely from photographs and raw emotions, his subjects are reimagined first through a lens and then with the brush. American films are far more accepting of portrayals of violence, than they are depictions of sexuality, the naked human form is judged far more harshly by the censors than that same form being blown to bits by a machine gun. I believe that this is a mistake in our culture.

In the famous interview between David Sylvester and Francis Bacon, Sylvester suggests that Hockney is the antithesis of Bacon. And if as I have suggested in the past London based expressionist artist Marcelle Hanselaar is in line with Bacon, certainly one that that they share is this sense of theatricality in their work. I remember talking to Marcelle Hanselaar in this interview about the comparisons between theatre and painting. When I asked Marcelle 'Do you think shocking images will captivate people more?' she responded "I think because an image is artificial what you do on a canvas, you try to grab a whole life or a whole situation really on a square or rectangular piece. So of course it’s like theatre you have to dramatize it, it has to be intensified, because otherwise people for the same money will just look at the wall and think 'nice wallpaper'". We discussed how in the mise-en-scène, the situation which we find her characters there is quite often a social dynamic whether its a lone figure caught in the act of something or multiple figures and they are caught, Marcelle told me that this sense of theatricality comes from a need to create an immediacy in her work, something Bacon was continually concerned with. 

Yet there is a decided difference between what Bacon and Hanselaar call immediacy and theatricality, and the kind that Hockney puts to use in his work. It’s much the same subjective approached from completely different corners.

An actor friend told me recently that I maintain a kind of stoic position to life in spite of it all, I feel in full consideration of the moment of death it becomes very difficult not to value the preciousness of life. "It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live” - Marcus Aurelius. Bacon had much the same outlook when he suggested to David Sylvester that life life is so much sweeter to this who walk in the shadow of death because it can be taken away at any moment.

My father, who defended the preciousness of life, would constantly tell his friends that he was going to die young and would go about his work leaving the legacy that he did by the age of 42, with a kind of franticness, which is now recited back to me by those same friends as an ironic part of his story. I believe this stoic awareness of death was a vital aspect to his point of view on art. Though in the case of Bacon he defended the dignity of the image by bearing his own demons on paper and allowing the images to speak to the most vulnerable parts of ourselves, therefore he had a difficult relationship to Bacon’s paintings:








by Peter Fuller


Their heads are eyeless and tiny. Their mouths, huge. Two of them are baring their teeth. All have long, stalk-like necks. The one on the left, hunched on a table, has the sacked torso of a mutilated woman; the body of the centre creature is more like an inflated abdomen propped up on flamingo legs behind an empty pedestal; the third could be a cross between a lion and an ox: its single front leg disappears into a patch of scrawny grass.

They exude a sense of nature’s errors; errors caused by some unspeakable genetic pollution, embroidered with physical wounding. One has a white bandage where its eyes might have been. All are an ominous grey, tinted with fleshly pinks: they are set off against backgrounds of garish orange containing suggestions of unspecified architectural spaces.

Francis Bacon painted this triptych, Three Studies for Figures at the Base o f a Crucifixion, now in the Tate Gallery, in 1944. It was first exhibited at the Lefevre Gallery the following April, where it hung alongside works by Moore, Sutherland and others who had sought to redeem the horrors of war through the consolations of art. Although Bacon referred to traditional religious iconography, he did not wish to console anyone about anything. Indeed, he seemed to want to rub the nose of the dog of history in its own excrement.

When the Three Studies was first shown, the war was ending and it was spring. Bacon was out of tune with the mood of his times. Certainly, as far as the fashionable movements in art were concerned, he was to remain so. And yet his star steadily ascended. By the late 1950s he was one of an elite handful of ‘distinguished British artists’. Today his stature among contemporary painters seems unassailable. And yet Bacon who recently held an exhibition of new work at Marlborough Fine Art to mark the publication by Phaidon of a major monograph, Francis Bacon, by Michel Leiris must be the most difficult of all living painters to evaluate justly. His work is so extreme it seems to demand an equally extreme response.

Bacon has always denied that he set out to emphasise horror or violence. In a chilling series of interviews conducted by David Sylvester, he qualified this by saying, ‘I’ve always hoped to put over things as directly and rawly as I possibly can, and perhaps, if a thing comes across directly, people feel that that is horrific.’ He explained that people ‘tend to be offended by facts, or what used to be called truth.’ He has repeatedly said that his work has no message, meaning or statement to make beyond the revelation of that naked truth.

Bacon’s serious critics have largely gone along with his own view of his painting. Michel Leiris, a personal friend of the painter’s, is no exception; Leiris argues that Bacon presents us with a radically demystified art, ‘cleansed both of its religious halo and its moral dimension’. Again and again, Leiris calls Bacon a ‘realist’, who strips down the thing he is looking at in a way which retains ‘only its naked reality’. He echoes Bacon himself in arguing that his pictures have no hidden depths and call for no interpretation ‘other than the apprehension of what is immediately visible’.

No doubt the ‘horror’ has been overdone in popular and journalistic responses to Bacon. But it is just as naive to think Bacon is simply recording visual facts, let alone transcribing ‘truth’. Creatures like those depicted in Three Studies can no more be observed slouching around London streets than haloes can be seen above the heads of good men, or angels in our skies. Of course Bacon’s violent imagination distorts what he sees.

But the clash between Bacon’s supporters and the populists cannot be dismissed as easily as that. The point remains whether Bacon’s distortions are indeed revelatory of a significant truth about men and women beyond the facts of their appearances; or whether they are simply a horrible assault upon our image of ourselves and each other, pursued for sensationalist effects. And this, whether Bacon and his friends like it or not, involves us in questions of interpretation, value and meaning.

The stature of Bacon’s achievement from the most unpropitious beginnings is not to be denied. Although his father named his only son after their ancestor, the Elizabethan philosopher of sweet reason, he was himself an unreasonable and tyrannical man, a racehorse trainer by profession. Nonetheless, Francis, a sickly and asthmatic child, felt sexually attracted to him. Francis received no conventional schooling and left home at sixteen, following an incident in which he was discovered trying on his mother’s clothes.

He worked in menial jobs before briefly visiting Berlin and Paris in the late 1920s; soon after, he began painting and drawing, at first without real commitment, direction or success. In the early 1930s, he was better known as a derivative designer of modern rugs and furniture, although an early Crucifixion, in oils, was reproduced by Herbert Read in Art Now. Bacon subsequently destroyed almost all his early work; his public career thus effectively began only with the exhibition of Three Studies in 1944.

Bacon then began to produce the paintings for which he has become famous: at first there were some figures in a landscape; but soon he moved definitively indoors. He displayed splayed bodies, surrounded by tubular furniture of the kind he had once designed, in silent interiors. A fascination with the crucifix and triptych format continued; but he painted the naked, human body usually male in all sorts of situations of struggle, suffering and embuggerment. A picture of two naked figures wrestling on a bed of 1953 is surely among his best. But a series of variations on Velazquez’s Portrait o f Pope Innocent X  which he now regrets became among his most celebrated. By the 1960s, the echoes of religious iconography and the Grand Tradition of painting had become more muted. Bacon could never be accused of ‘intimism’ : ‘homeliness’ is one of the qualities he hates most. The large, bloody, set-piece interiors continued; but the forms of their figures became less energetic, more statuesque. Bacon seemed increasingly preoccupied with portraits, usually in a triptych format, of his friends and associates: Isabel Rawsthorne, Henrietta Moraes, Lucian Freud, George Dyer (his lover), Muriel Belcher, the owner of a drinking club in Soho he frequented, and himself.

Bacon has repeatedly said that he is not an ‘expressionist’; it is easy to show what he means by this by contrasting his work with that of the currently fashionable, but lesser, painter George Baselitz (at the Whitechapel Gallery) - who is. Baselitz deals with a similar subject matter; but he invariably handles paint in an ‘abstract expressionist’ manner; i.e. in a way which refers not so much to his subjects as to his own activity and sentiments as an artist. Anatomy, physiognomy, gesture and the composition of an architectural illusion of space mean nothing to him: to Bacon, they are everything. Or rather almost everything.

For if he has sought to work in continuity with the High Art of the past, Bacon recognises that the painter, today, is in fact in a very different position. He has regretted the absence of a ‘valid myth’ within which to work: ‘When you’re outside tradition, as every artist is today, one can only want to record one’s own feelings about certain situations as closely to one’s nervous system as one possibly can.’

He stresses that the echoes of religion in his pictures are intended to evoke no residue of spiritual values; Bacon is a man for whom Cimabue’s great Crucifixion is no more than an image of ‘a worm crawling down the cross’. He is interested in the crucifix for the same reason he is fascinated by meat and slaughterhouses; and also for its compositional possibilities: ‘The central figure of Christ is raised into a very pronounced and isolated position, which gives it, from a formal point of view, greater possibilities than having all the different figures placed on the same level. The alteration of level is, from my point of view, very important.’ But, for Bacon, the myths of vicarious sacrifice, incarnation, redemption, resurrection, salvation and victory over death mean nothing - even as consoling illusions.

The appeal to a meaningful religious iconography is, in effect, replaced in his work by an appeal to photography; similarly, in his pictures, as in his life, the myth of a jealous and omnipotent god has been replaced by the arbitrary operations of chance.

Bacon’s fascination with Muybridge’s sequential photographs of men, women and animals in motion is well-known. References to specific Muybridge images are often discernible in his pictures; even his triptych format seems to relate more to them than to traditional altarpieces. He seems to believe that Muybridge exposed the illusions of art, and freed it from the need to construct such illusions in the future. Unlike many who reached similar conclusions, they did not, of course, lead Bacon to narrow aestheticism or abstraction. Rather, he sometimes insists that the artist should become even more ‘realist’ than the photographer, by getting yet closer to the object; and, at others, that as a result of photography’s annexation of appearance, good art today has become just a game.

But this insistence on ‘realism’, and reduction of art to its ludic and aleatory aspects, are not, in Bacon’s philosophy, necessarily opposed. Accident and chance play a central role in his pursuit of ‘realistic’ images of men; they enter into his painting technique through his reliance on throwing and splattering. In fact, of course, Bacon exercises a consummate control over the effects chance gives him; but, as he once said, ‘I want a very ordered image, but I want it to come about by chance.’ He fantasizes about the creation of a masterpiece by means of accident. The religious artists of the High Tradition attributed their ‘inspiration’ to impersonal agencies, like the muses or gods; and Bacon, too, is possessed of an overwhelming need to locate the origins of his own imaginative activity outside of himself.

The role of photography and chance in his creative process relate immediately to the view of man he is seeking to realise. ‘Man,’ he has said, ‘now realizes that he is an accident, that he is a completely futile being, that he has to play out the game without reason.’ Thus, in reducing itself to ‘a game by which man distracts himself’ (rather than a purveyor of moral or spiritual values) art more accurately reflects the human situation even than photography . . . The human situation, that is, as seen by Bacon.

Bacon then has achieved something quite extraordinary. He has used the shell of the High Tradition of European painting to express, in form as much as in content, a view of man which is utterly at odds with everything that tradition proclaims and affirms. Moreover, it must be admitted that he has done so to compelling effect. It is perfectly possible to fault Bacon, technically and formally: he has a tendency to ‘fill-in’ his backgrounds with bland expanses of colour; recently, he has not always proved able to escape the trap of self-parody, leading to mannerism and stereotyping of some of his forms. But these are quibbles. Bacon, in interviews, has good reason constantly to refer back to the formal aspects of his work; he is indeed the master of them.

But this cannot be the end of the matter in our evaluation of him. Leiris maintains his ‘realism’ lies in his image of ‘man dispossessed of any durable paradise . . . able to contemplate himself clear-sightedly’. But is it ‘realistic’ to have a Baconian vision of man closer to that of a side of streaky pig’s meat, skewered at random, than to anything envisaged by his rational ancestor?

Nor can we evade the fact that Bacon’s view of man is consonant with the way he lives his life. He emerges from his many interviews as a man with no religious beliefs, no secular ethical values, no faith in human relationships, and no meaningful social or political values either. ‘All life,’ he says, ‘is completely artificial, but I think that what is called social justice makes it more pointlessly artificial . . . Who remembers or cares about a happy society?’ One may sympathise with Bacon because death wiped out so many of his significant relationships; but his life seems to have been dedicated to futility and chance. It has been said that, for him, the inner city is a ‘sexual gymnasium’. He is obsessed with roulette, and the milieu of Soho drinking clubs. He wants to live in ‘gilded squalor’ in a state of ‘exhilarated despair’. He is not so much honest as appallingly frank about his overwhelming ‘greed’.

And it is, of course, just such a view of man which Bacon made so powerfully real through his painterly skills. Because he refuses the ‘expressionist’ option, he also relinquishes that ‘redemption through form’ which characterises Soutine’s carcasses of beef, or Rouault’s prostitutes. But it may, nonetheless, be that there is something more to life than the spasmodic activities of perverse hunks of meat in closed rooms. And perhaps, even if the gods are dead, there are secular values more profound and worthwhile than the random decisions of the roulette wheel.

I believe there are; and so I cannot accept Bacon as the great realist of our time. He is a good painter: he is arguably the nearest to a great one to have emerged in Britain since the last war. (Though I believe Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff are better.) Nonetheless, in the end, I find the vision of man he uses his undeniable painterly talents to express quite odious. We are not mere victims of chance; we possess imagination - or the capacity to conceive of the world other than the way it is. We also have powers of moral choice, and relatively effective action, whether or not we believe in God. And so I turn away from Bacon’s work with a sense of disgust, and relief: relief that it gives us neither the ‘facts’ nor the necessary ‘truth’ about our condition.







The Art of Rivalry by  Sebastian Smee

  from shared vision to slashed canvas




Picasso and Matisse, Bacon and Freud… this study of great

painters’ rivalries buzzes with gossip but little real insight






Sebastian Smee’s collection of long essays about artistic friendships springs from his interesting – surely not entirely original – contention that when it comes to inspiration, finding oneself in competition with a brilliant rival may be every bit as important as being, say, in possession of a beautiful muse. But while his principal characters are all male – “culture in this period was overwhelmingly patriarchal”, he writes, casually and unapologetically – his narrative is not quite so macho as it may first appear. The Art of Rivalry is, he suggests, a book about “yielding, intimacy, and openness to influence… about susceptibility”. In other words, though he doesn’t put it quite like this himself, his subject is a series of tender, and then not-so-tender, love stories: between Freud and Bacon, Manet and Degas, Matisse and Picasso, and Pollock and de Kooning.

Each essay begins with a ripely significant moment in the history of these complex relationships, after which Smee retraces his steps, returning to the beginning to unwrap the full story, from early shy sweetness to full-blown falling out. For Matisse and Picasso, this moment is their first meeting in 1906, when the collectors Leo and Gertrude Stein took Matisse and his daughter, Marguerite, to visit Picasso’s ramshackle studio in the dilapidated former piano factory known as the Bateau-Lavoir, while for Pollock and de Kooning it’s one night in the early 1950s, when the two painters were seen sharing a drink outside the Cedar Tavern in Greenwich Village. If Matisse and Picasso’s rivalry was mostly unspoken, a quietly crackling atmosphere in which each of them, almost slyly, checked the other out, Pollock and de Kooning had an altogether bolder strategy. As they passed the bottle between them, each man took it in turns to insist loudly to the other that he (the other) was “the greatest painter in America” – greatness, you understand, was then all the rage, even among the sober – until Pollock finally passed out.

The tale of Manet and Degas begins with the story of Degas’s 1868-69 portrait of Manet and his wife, a canvas Manet famously slashed, his friend having apparently failed to flatter Suzanne. Smee’s belief is that Degas’s painting in fact reminded Manet painfully of the hypocrisy and shame that had once attended his relationship (their son, born illegitimately when Manet was just 19, had been brought up as his wife’s brother). But this is a well known drama. More intriguing by far is Smee’s starting point for the story of Freud and Bacon: the theft from a Berlin museum in 1988 of Freud’s 1952 pocket-sized portrait of his former friend.

“Somebody out there really loves Francis,” Freud said after its disappearance, a feeling with which he could identify, for all that the two of them had definitively broken with each other back in the early 1970s. Thirteen years after its loss, as the Tate was preparing to mount a retrospective of his work, Freud designed a WANTED poster for this portrait in a desperate, and ultimately unsuccessful, bid to get the picture back. The poster in question, he insisted, was the “jokey equivalent of a black armband”. But that word, “wanted”, emblazoned in red letters above a black-and-white image of his former friend’s face, his eyes cast down and his lips forming a kind of plangent sneer, was powerfully significant, whether Freud allowed it or not. If he did not long for Bacon, exactly, he carried with him a hollow in the form of shared history and, perhaps, a debt owed. It was a gap that seemingly wouldn’t go away. Just as Degas frantically collected Manet’s work after his death, so Freud kept Bacon’s Two Figures  (1953), in which male lovers lie wrestling in the middle of an unmade bed, their teeth bared, in his house in London until the end of his life.

What did all these men do for one another? Mere days after his visit to Picasso’s studio, Matisse exhibited Le Bonheur de Vivre (The Joy of Life) at the Salon des Indépendants, a painting that caused Picasso to abandon his own work on a similarly Arcadian theme, The Watering Place, on the grounds that it now seemed unexceptional (even the devoted Leo Stein at first balked at Matisse’s extraordinary painting, a vividly coloured vision of paradise that was also uncomfortably odd). But in the main, influence is not specific like this; it’s subtle and twisting and complicated. Can we ever be certain that it was Bacon who caused Freud to replace his early delicacy with a new, more brutish amplitude? Or that it was Pollock’s wild drip paintings that enabled de Kooning finally to see what was missing in his own work? (According to Smee, he wanted a “share” of Pollock’s abandon, his sense that he was almost “inside” the canvases he laid on the floor and danced around.)

I’m not sure creativity works like this. Jealousy is often a spur. So, too, is admiration: the desire to earn it, as well as to ape the source of it. Friends may encourage and learn from each other. In the end, though, a true artist competes only with himself.

The Art of Rivalry has two great virtues. The first is that it is plainly written, almost entirely free of the clotted art-speak that makes a lot of books on similar themes so difficult to read. (Though it is also rather lazy and flip, sometimes: “He had caught the art bug,” its author notes of the young Degas, before going on to inform us that Manet’s drawings were “often a bit iffy”). The second is that it bulges with gossip, even if you will have heard a lot of it before. In context, the wedding from which Freud absents himself on the grounds that he has been sexually involved not only with the bride but also with the groom and the groom’s mother, barely causes the reader to raise an eyebrow. It’s also almost certain to make you want to chase down (or reread) the big biographies that are some of its major sources. But these things don’t entirely compensate for the sense that Smee, the winner of a Pulitzer prize for his art criticism, is sometimes only going through the motions – particularly so in the case of the rather breathless essay on Matisse and Picasso, which never seems to do much more than skim the surface. All in all, it feels rather forced, bolted together: a book that didn’t need to be written, and thus doesn’t always demand to be read.

The Art of Rivalry is published by Profile Books (£16.99).





Art as a mirror of this dark moment








             Study for Portrait of John Hewitt, 1966, by Francis Bacon


Francis Bacon’s portraits capture the human psyche at the very moment when composure breaks down and the animal — adrenalized, alert, ready to snarl — is revealed.

We are, evidently, in an angry moment. The repressed, factored-out, and thwarted sides of our psyches are spilling out, and it isn’t pretty.

The terrible strain of pretending that that other person over there is just as important as I am, that we are equal, that love trumps hate, and all those other platitudes, those feeble fictions, is proving too much to bear.

Taunting is in. A female student in a hijab is surrounded and heckled by fellow students who call her a terrorist. Black students get on a bus only to be told by other students to sit in the back. Swastikas appear in the boys’ bathroom at a school with a high number of Jewish students.

We have columnists and comedians on hand to make sense of this moment. We have edifying teachers and lecturers. We still have a political opposition.

But do we have artists? Of course. And they’ve been speaking to this moment for a very long time.

The artists who feel most in tune with what is going on right now are not, by and large, overtly political artists. Political speech has a strange way of not really applying to anyone. (That, in a nutshell, was Hillary Clinton’s problem.) The same, unfortunately, is true of most well-intentioned political art.

Great art is different. It applies to me, to you. The artists who speak most cogently to the present are interested in something deeper than truisms. They’re not trying to check identity boxes. They’re not trying to preach to the converted. They are interested in conveying what Francis Bacon called “the brutality of fact.”

Bacon is in some ways exemplary. His portraits come out of a dark European tradition that includes Hieronymous Bosch, James Ensor, Pablo Picasso, and Max Beckmann. They dramatize the tension between the psyche’s darker compulsions and the pressure felt in civilized society to conform, to repress emotions, not to lash out.

Bacon invented a whole new visual language for this tension. He drew on those forerunners in art, but also on photographs in medical textbooks, in the films of Luis Bunuel and Sergei Eisenstein, the stop-motion photographs of Eadweard Muybridge, and news images of 20th-century violence.

Think of the pinched and slightly blurred look in the president-elect’s eyes when he is not getting his way or feels hard done by. His micro-expressions — the fleeting twitches, the flash of fury — hint at a mind incapable of composure.They find gorgeous equivalents in the smeared, distended expressions of Bacon’s portraits, which capture the human psyche at the very moment when composure breaks down and the animal — adrenalized, alert, ready to snarl — is revealed.

We are in a divided society. People are on a short fuse. They are looking for — and finding — like-mindedness. In some cases, for the reassurance of platitudes. In others, for permission to make those ugly faces, to express the contempt that burns beneath the scuffed veneer of civility.

In crowds, at protests, at rallies, these people feel an expanded license to say and do things they wouldn’t dare elsewhere. Sometimes they hide behind a political placard or put on a mask. Given the right setting, they might even throw up a Nazi salute.

But it’s good to remember that not all art is there to console us. More than any piece of investigative journalism, art can express fundamental truths about our circumstances and our natures. Very often, we would hesitate to put those truths into words — assuming we even could.





The Rule of Three for Prizes in Science and the Bold Triptychs of Francis Bacon



Lasker Jury Chair Joseph Goldstein makes the case that the triptych — a classic storytelling form for painters

— is also an effective mode for enlightening the general public on how scientific discoveries arise.


Opening remarks from 2016 Lasker Awards ceremony.







The Rule of Three

For many scientific awards, such as Nobels and Laskers, the maximum number of recipients is limited to three. This Rule-of-Three forces selection committees to make difficult decisions that increase the likelihood of singling out those individuals who open a new field and continue to lead it. The Rule-of-Three is reminiscent of art’s three-panel triptych. The master of the modern triptych is the British artist Francis Bacon, who used the triptych format to distill a complex story so that it could be painted and told in a bold way.  


What’s Magic About the Number 3?

There’s something magical and magisterial about the number 3. Religion has its Holy Trinity; literature has its Three Musketeers; comedy has its Three Stooges; folk music has its Peter, Paul and Mary; thoroughbred racing has its Triple Crown; the universe has its First Three Minutes. In baseball, it’s Three Strikes and You’re Out; In science, it’s the Nobel Rule of Three. And in art, it’s the Three-Panel Triptych.


Origin of the Nobel Rule-of-Three

The original will of Alfred Nobel made no mention of the number of recipients who could share a Nobel Prize. For the first 50 years of Nobel Prizes (1901-1950), the prizes in every category were given primarily to one or two individuals with very few exceptions (Levinovitz and Ringertz, 2001). In 1902, one-half of the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Henri Becquerel for his discovery of spontaneous radioactivity, and the other half was shared between the husband and wife team of Pierre and Marie Curie for developing methods for measuring radioactivity and identifying new radioactive elements such as radium. A physics prize to three was not given again for 54 years at which time William Shockley, John Bardeen, and Walter Brattain were honored in 1956 for the discovery of the transistor.

The first time three individuals received a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was in 1934 when the prize went to George Whipple, George Minot, and William Murphy for discovery of liver therapy for pernicious anemia. The second time that the Karolinska Institute recognized a threesome was in 1945 when Alexander Fleming, Howard Florey, and Ernst Chain were honored for the discovery of penicillin. It was not 1946 that the first Chemistry Prize was given to three individuals. This award recognized the discovery that enzymes could be crystallized (James Sumner) and that viruses could be prepared in a pure form (John Northrop and Wendell Stanley). No further chemistry prizes to three occurred until 1967 when the Nobel was awarded to Manfred Eigen, Ronald Norrish, and George Porter for studies of fast chemical reactions.

In 1968 the Nobel Foundation formally decided that the maximum number of recipients to receive any of their prizes would be three (Levinovitz and Ringertz, 2001).  In the last 50 years, about one-third of the prizes in Physics, Chemistry, and Physiology or Medicine have each been shared by three people. Following in Nobel footsteps, the Lasker Foundation adopted the Rule of Three in 1997. Since then, about one-third of Lasker Basic and Clinical Awards have been shared by three individuals.

Origin of Triptychs

The first triptychs go back to the Middle Ages when Byzantine churches were decorated with biblical altar paintings. One of the most famous of all triptychs is the altarpiece in the Antwerp Cathedral by Peter Paul Rubens, completed in 1612 (Fig. 1). Rubens’ triptych, entitled Descent from the Cross, depicts the Visitation (left panel), the Descent (middle panel), and the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple (right panel). The central panel shows four men lowering the body of Christ with the aid of a shroud. At the top of one ladder, the grey-haired man holds one end of the shroud in his teeth, while at the top of a second ladder, the brown-haired man holds the other end of the shroud with his left hand. One of Christ’s feet comes to rest on Mary Magdalene’s shoulder, right next to her beautiful golden hair (Bialostocki, 1964).

In 1794 after winning the battle of Fleurus in the Netherlands, Napoleon visited the Antwerp Cathedral where he became awe-struck by Rubens’ triptych. As part of the victory spoils, Napoleon removed the painting and sent the three panels to the Louvre. After his death, all three panels were returned to the cathedral in 1815.


Francis Bacon: Master of the Bold Triptych

Fast forward to 1944, when the Irish-born British artist Francis Bacon entered the art world. Bacon is one of the most important painters of the last half of the 20th century. His mastery of bold, raw, and emotionally charged human images are exceptionally powerful in much the same way that the human figures of Picasso and Willem de Kooning shock and haunt the spectator (Sylvester, 2000; Harrison, 2016).

In adopting the triptych format, Bacon was greatly influenced by Rubens, especially his Descent triptych and the related triptych Elevation of the Cross, also in the Antwerp Cathedral.  From 1944 to 1986, Bacon painted 31 large triptychs (~78 x 58 in) and 45 smaller ones. His favorite subjects were crucifixions, screaming Popes, drinking companions, famous artists, and wealthy businessmen. Figure 2 shows a 1965 triptych by Bacon entitled Crucifixion, in which he depicts three forms of violent death. In the central panel, a half human-half animal hybrid figure hangs upside down from a scaffold hook – a modernist rendition of Rubens’ Descent from the Cross.

During the 15-17th centuries, Popes were celebrated and immortalized in portraits by renowned artists, such as Raphael, Titian, and Velasquez. Although Bacon was fascinated by Popes as bearers of power, he was angered by their authority. Inspired by a photograph of Pope Pius XII, in 1951 he painted three Pope portraits, entitled Pope I, Pope II, and Pope III (Fig. 3).  This series of paintings was his first to show the same figure in three different poses (see legend for more details on the history of how this triptych was assembled and disassembled). Bacon depicted his three Popes, not as sanctified figures, but as anti-Pope creatures in which “the papal throne becomes the electric chair, the papal attire becomes gaudy dress, and the organ of speech becomes the aperture of a scream” (Arya, 2009). Moreover, the scream becomes a clever double entendre, mimicking the shrieks of many viewers who are shocked at what they are seeing.




                                                                                                                                 Fig. 3.  Popes I, II, and III by Francis Bacon



1951. Oil on canvas. Each canvas, 6.5 x 4.6 ft. The three portraits were originally done as three separate pieces and not combined as a triptych until 1962 when they were exhibited together in a retrospective of Bacon’s work at the Tate Gallery in London (Sylvester, 2000). At the close of the exhibition, the three portraits were separated. Pope I is now exhibited at the Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museum Collection (Aberdeen, Scotland). Pope II is now exhibited at the Stadtische Kunsthalle (Mannheim, Germany). Pope III was damaged beyond repair when it fell into Tokyo Harbor in 1966; it was subsequently destroyed on Bacon’s instructions (Harrison, 2016).

Bacon’s most famous screaming Pope is his 1953 Study after Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, which is shown in Fig. 4 adjacent to Velazquez’s 1650 version. Bacon considered Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X to be the finest portrait ever painted (Sylvester, 2000; Harrison, 2016).

One of Bacon’s contemporaries in the London art world during the last half of the 20th century was another of England’s highly original artists, Lucian Freud. Bacon and Freud had a complicated relationship; they were confidants and rivals at the same time.  One of Bacon’s most acclaimed triptychs, Three Studies of Lucian Freud, depicts Freud in a hellish Holy Trinity – tangled and trapped in a series of cages, sitting like a coiled spring about to erupt and shoot out of the flat picture frame (Fig. 5). Freud is shown in his trademark navy blue socks and rolled-up white shirt.  In 2014, this triptych was sold at auction for $142 million – the highest price ever paid for an artwork at auction - until last year when a Picasso painting sold for $165 million.


Why the Triptych Format?  Why the Rule-of-Three?

What attracted Francis Bacon to the triptych format?  In addition to the influence of Rubens, Bacon believed that having three images next to each other allowed him to tell a better story than did a single image. Moreover, limiting his painting to three panels forced him to distill and simplify a complex story so that it could be presented in a chronological way much like a series of successive photographs captures a key event.

How does the triptych approach for telling a good story relate to the Rule-of-Three?  Why should a Nobel Prize and a Lasker Award be limited to a maximum of three individuals if the scientific story being recognized is based on the work of four, five, six people, etc. or a team of many? Bypassed scientists may legitimately feel that their contributions have been left out in the cold, and without their inclusion the story would be incomplete.

Scientific awards afford a special opportunity to enlighten the general public on how scientific discoveries arise. Like a Francis Bacon triptych, a prizeworthy scientific discovery has its greatest impact in capturing the public’s imagination when the story of its origin can be traced to its fundamental roots and told in an engaging way.



This year’s Lasker awardees made discoveries that reflect the type of boldness and adventurousness exemplified in the triptychs of Francis Bacon.


Basic Award

The Lasker Basic Research Award honors three scientists: William G. Kaelin, Jr. (Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/Harvard Medical School), Peter J. Ratcliffe (University of Oxford/Francis Crick Institute), and Gregg L. Semenza (Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine). The combined triptych-like discoveries of these three scientists revealed the pathway by which human and most animal cells sense and adapt to changes in oxygen availability - an essential process for their survival. The unique features of this signaling pathway involve an oxygen-stimulated proline hydroxylation of a protein called HIF-1α (Hypoxia-Induced Factor), followed by ubiquitination and proteasomal degradation. Under hypoxic conditions, HIF-1α is no longer modified and becomes available to dimerize with a partner protein. The resulting dimeric complex activates transcription of many genes that aid cells in adapting to the hypoxic state, including those encoding erythropoietin, VEGF, PGDFβ, and glycolytic enzymes. Discovery of the oxygen-sensing pathway not only provides major insights into a fundamental physiological process but also plays a central role in a wide range of human pathologies.


Clinical Award

The Lasker~DeBakey Clinical Research Award honors three scientists for discoveries concerning the hepatitis C virus (HCV), which causes a chronic, often lethal disease. Two of the awardees - Ralf F.M. Bartenschlager (University of Heidelberg) and Charles M. Rice (Rockefeller University) - developed a system for studying the replication of HCV in cultured human liver cells. The third awardee is Michael J. Sofia (formerly at Pharmasset, Inc.; now at Arbutus Biopharma, Inc.) who used the replicon system to invent the first effective and nontoxic inhibitor of the HCV polymerase (NS5B). This drug, called sofosbuvir (Sovaldi) was FDA-approved in December 2013. It is now the cornerstone component of three FDA-approved combinations for HCV disease that provide effective and curative therapies that do not require the toxic co-administration of interferon and ribavirin. The first of these curative therapies to be approved contains sofosbuvir in combination with lepidasvir, which inhibits the HCV nonstructural protein 5A (NS5A). This drug combination, called Harvoni (developed by Gilead Sciences, Inc. and approved in October 2014), set the stage for revolutionizing the treatment for HCV disease. The lives of many thousands of HCV-infected individuals have now been improved and saved as a result of this pioneering work


Special Achievement Award

The Lasker~Koshland Special Achievement Award honors only one scientist, but one with three bold strokes. The awardee is Bruce M. Alberts (University of California, San Francisco) who during a 55-year career, is highly regarded by the scientific community for his triptych of accomplishments, which include: 1) fundamental discoveries in DNA replication and protein biochemistry; 2) visionary leadership in directing national and international scientific organizations to better people’s lives, including a 12-year term as president of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences; and 3) passionate dedication to improving education in science and mathematics. A notable example of this latter accomplishment was his leadership role in teaming up with five other scientists to write the most influential textbook of its kind Molecular Biology of the Cell. The first edition, which was published in 1984, is now in its 6th edition (appearing in 2015). This classic textbook has been translated into 11 languages (including Chinese) and has been devoured by tens of millions of students as well as established researchers, all of whom praise it for its clarity, the logic of its explanations, and its splendid illustrations. Even though the 2015 edition was assembled by seven authors, the material is integrated in such a way that it reads like the work of a single hand - undoubtedly the deft hand of Bruce Alberts.



Arya, R. (2009). Painting the Pope: an analysis of Francis Bacon’s Study after Velazquez’s Portrait of Innocent X. Literature and Theology. 23, 33-50

Bialostocki, J. (1964). The descent from the cross in works by Peter Paul Rubens and his studio. The Art Bulletin 46, 511-524

Harrison, M. (2016). Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné (London: The Estate of Francis Bacon).

ylvester, D. (2000). Looking Back at Francis Bacon (New York: Thames & Hudson, Inc.).

Levinovitz, A.W., and Ringertz, N. (2001). The Nobel Prize: The First 100 Years. (London: Imperial College Press).






Francis Bacon: The crazy million dollar business with his Estate






2016 is the year of Francis Bacon: five major exhibitions around the world celebrate the artist, and a catalogue raisonné boasts around 100 previously unknown paintings. A million dollar business is growing in the art market. The artist’s estate administrators pull the strings.

"And now we come to lot 8A, on the left, you on the right, ladies and gentlemen, the great triptych 'Lucien Freud' by Francis Bacon from 1969. Wonderful thing, here we have it."

New York, November 12, 2013. In the sales room of Christie’s auction house in Rockefeller Center, the evening auction for post-war and contemporary art is approaching its climax. The bidding war is on. Money is in the air. And silence. Auctioneer Jussi Pylkkanen lets out a laugh, encourages the first bid: "Hush, we’re starting now!" Then a redeemed "$ 80 million!", Followed by an "$ 85 million!" Then "90, I have 90."

The price rises in five million steps to 120. Then 121, 122, two bidders on the phone are now fighting for the picture, there is tense silence in the hall. At $ 126 million, Pylkkanen leans over his desk as if he wanted to rake the millions out of thin air and states: "A historic moment."

In the end, at the standard auction house premium, the three-part painting ends up at Elaine Wynn, the ex-wife of Las Vegas casino mogul Stephen Wynn, for $ 142,405,000. Hammer blow, "Sold!", World record.


The most expensive artist in the world

The painter Francis Bacon, born in 1909 as the son of an English horse trainer in Dublin, an autodidact without any significant schooling, was already considered the most expensive contemporary artist during his lifetime. His pictures of people who seem to dissolve into masses of flesh, of screaming popes and writhing bodies are puzzling and disturbing to this day.

Since his death in 1992, a relentless battle has broken out over the painter’s legacy, estimated at around 100 million British pounds, and the sovereignty over his work. And the few big works that even hit the market have become trophies from hedge fund billionaires like J. Tomilson Hill of Blackstone and Russian oligarchs like Roman Abramovic. Those who cannot get a Bacon original by conventional means are resorting to more brutal methods: In March it became known that five paintings worth over 30 million euros had been stolen from the apartment of Bacon’s last lover in Madrid.


Suddenly new Bacon works everywhere

This year, the Bacon Mania has reached a new high with exhibitions in Liverpool, Monaco, Stuttgart, Bilbao and Los Angeles as well as a major journalistic project: "The Estate of Francis Bacon" wants around 100 previously unknown paintings Artist, discovered and verified.

In a five-volume magnum opus in a black slipcase, weighing 15 kilos and costing 1,000 British pounds, the estate published all of the works it classified as authentic in June this year. And according to current art trade practice, the following applies from now on: What is inside is real.

Quite a few owners of a painting that hitherto hung undocumented on the wall and could only be described as "attributed to Bacon" can now look forward to an increase in value that can hardly be named in numbers. And the auction houses, greedy for big names and works that have never been traded, i.e. works fresh from the market, have long been in the starting blocks.


£400,000 for a waste product

At the moment almost everything that can be associated with Bacon can be sold: A clumsy and probably justly discarded study of Bacon, which an English artist cut in two parts, turned over and painted landscapes, brought in 434,500 pounds in March, 15 Times as much as the auction house expected. And two left gloves, which Bacon is said to have worn while painting, were bought by a buyer for almost £7,000.

Bacon pictures often generate sales between 10 and 30 million euros at auctions. The prices fluctuate considerably – depending on the size, importance and public appreciation of the work. And according to his impression: The gloomy works usually bring less. With around 100 newly published pictures, the art market has a potential of hundreds of millions of euros.

A host of art consultants, gallery owners, auction houses and, last but not least, those who establish contact between prospective buyers and owners who are willing to sell who are listed in the catalogue raisonné as anonymous private collectors will benefit from this: only the Francis Bacon Estate can do that.


The painter’s reputation is at stake

The downside of the great friction: the painter’s reputation is at stake. Because the authors, Martin Harrison and his assistant Rebecca Daniels, according to their own statements, completely include everything in the directory that, according to their findings, can be ascribed to the hand of Francis Bacon: Even those works that the painter tore up, cut up and in a well-known fury thrown in the garbage. And who miraculously survived.

With all the rediscoveries and failed attempts swept together, as well as everything that Bacon still recognized during his lifetime, the painter’s oeuvre has increased from 221 works documented in the first catalogue raisonné in 1964 to 584 now.

Someone who knew Bacon very well and is considered to be the artist’s authoritative biographer put a long-held work by Bacon up for auction in February. Because he knew that a flood of new, partly inferior works would force their way onto the market? Michael Peppiatt shakes his head. "The picture was my pension fund. Due to the huge increase in value over the past few years, I couldn’t even afford the insurance for it, so I always loaned it out to museums and exhibitions. At least that’s how it was safe."

The friend’s gift brought in just under five million pounds. This year Peppiatt will be 75 years old, and he is still freeing himself from his mentor’s spell with every book, exhibition and sale. He now exchanges the memory for a house on the Cote d’Azur.


A meeting with the biographer

Peppiatt sits on the first floor of the Café de Flore on Boulevard Saint-Germain, Paris. He chose this place because it stands for the good old days – when Paris was the place of longing for artists and intellectuals from all over the world. When paintings still provoked existential debates. And when the young London art historian Peppiatt sought and found his happiness here in 1966.

How closely his own story is connected to the life and work of Bacon, and how much he owes the painter, the renowned author recently told in the double biography "Francis Bacon in your blood", published in London in 2015: "Mad, bad and dangerous to know, as he was, Francis Bacon became a father figure for me and the central influence on my life."

Peppiatt was 21 and a student at Cambridge when he founded his first magazine in 1963 and wanted to do an interview with Francis Bacon, then 53. He met the notorious drunkard, gambler and lover of young small-door children in a bar in London and began a conversation that would not end until Bacon’s death.


Incredible fame and personal dramas

Bacon was at the beginning of his most successful and best decade: in 1958 he signed with the leading London gallery Marlborough, in 1962 the Tate Gallery anchored him in art history with a retrospective, in 1963 the Guggenheim Museum in New York followed, in 1964 his catalog of works, which was valid until then, was published . The triumph went hand in hand with Bacon’s personal drama: Shortly before the opening of the Tate show in 1962, Bacon’s lover Peter Lacy drank himself to death. And in 1971, on the eve of the acclaimed exhibition at the Paris Grand Palais, Bacon’s lover George Dyer killed himself.

Bacon owed the ingenious art dealer Frank Lloyd, a Viennese Jew who had emigrated to London and, with Marlborough, probably the most influential gallery of the post-war period, to the fact that his career rose so quickly and consistently. Lloyd worked as efficiently as an investment bank. Artists received advances, monthly fixed payments, and all of their financial affairs were managed by the gallery. And they produced exchange values ​​that Lloyd knew how to multiply.

Bacon enjoyed the money, but didn’t count it. In the afternoon he set out, pulling a tail of friends behind him, who he invited to the finest food, champagne and Bordeaux, and then drifted on to the bars of Soho, "The French House", the legendary "Colony Room", the "Coronation Club". And Peppiatt, fascinated by this strange world, followed him.

"When you’re out with bacon, you have to be able to keep up," says Peppiatt. "No matter how much you drank with him the night before, drinking less the next day is out of the question. Francis seemed to think the only solution was persistent, relentless excess."


Drink in the evening, paint in the morning

But just as consistently as Bacon devoted himself to the night feasts, he stood in his studio the next morning and worked on his canvases. He discovered painting for himself later, and it was not until he was 35 that he began to work seriously on his career. His approach was unacademic in every respect: Without classical training, he gave himself up to eruptive work and produced at an inconsistent level. Trial and error principle. "The fine distinction he makes between failure and success springs from a deep conviction and is implemented mercilessly," wrote John Rothenstein in 1962, who, as director of the Tate Gallery in London at the time, organized the painter’s first major retrospective and in 1964 co-edited the catalogue raisonné.

Painting remained the only constant in his life. Since his father caught him in his mother’s clothes and sent him to Berlin for discipline with an uncle, Bacon roamed Europe and North Africa, looked for companionship, lost two lovers and sunk his pain in art. Peppiatt says he was immersed in the revelation of nothing. That gave him freedom. But it also robbed him of all hope.

Bacon’s paintings document this epic struggle between the search for truth and destruction: "You have to deform appearance into an image," he describes his way of working. "I’m just trying to twist something into the truth."

In his search for the absolute, Bacon was not squeamish – neither in life nor in art. He almost completely erased his early work from the twenties and thirties. By 1949 alone he is said to have destroyed more than 700 pictures. But not every canvas has fallen victim to Bacon’s self-hatred and doubts. "There was a pile of discarded pictures in his studio," reports Peppiatt. And he says that rejected works kept turning up somewhere, in studios that were left behind, with old companions or people who had access to the studio.

Now, with the publication of the new catalogue raisonné, some of these works, which the author considered invalid, have probably been rewritten as real Bacons. "We have to look at this catalogue very carefully," says Peppiatt. Peppiatt has refused to work with the Estate.


Art historians generate millions

The rapid development of the art market since the turn of the millennium has given art historians a power that at times borders on magic: "When art is sold for millions of dollars, trust in the attribution of the work opens the door to a fortune," writes economics professor and art market expert Don Thompson in his book "The Supermodel and the Brillo Box." The boards and committees become key institutions. In this scene, "money goes from hand to hand," says a London curator. "You can reinvent the world of Bacon and generate hundreds of millions in the process."

But who or what exactly is the Bacon Estate? The Estate rejects inquiries from the Stern regarding the organizational form and function. There is also no information on the Estate’s website. Only in the category of "Friends" is there a photo of a young man who does not play a role in any of the artist’s biography: Brian Clarke, among all the illustrious artists, writers, models and partners of the artist.

Bacon’s sole heir, John Edwards, a handsome illiterate who had worked in his brothers’ Soho bars and had been close to Bacon for the last ten years of his life, had ceded responsibility for the estate to stained glass architectural designer Brian Clarke in 1998.


"Bunch of Cowboys"

"They’re a bunch of cowboys," says art critic Brian Sewell of Edwards and Clarke. Edwards had no idea about the art market and Clarke had realized that there was treasure to be found. Clarke withdrew the right to represent Bacon’s estate from the Marlborough Gallery and sued the gallery for the surrender of 33 allegedly embezzled pictures and documents with an amount in dispute of around £100 million. In 2002 he had to withdraw the lawsuit. But he was now the doorkeeper of the painter’s work

In 2006, the world’s most powerful art dealer, Larry Gagosian, triumphed in London with the first Bacon exhibition after the separation from Marlborough. The presentation of an installation by Brian Clarke in 2005 should not have stood in the way of the coup. Clarke now calls himself the "world leader" in the category of leaded glass windows. Bacon’s studio in the former coach house 7 Reece Mews transformed Clarke and Edwards into a luxury apartment for the heir’s stays in London, who after Bacon’s death lived in the Keys in Florida and later in Thailand, where he also died. Today it is the seat of the Bacon Estate. Brian Clarke rarely appears in connection with Francis Bacon. He’s found a front man for his affairs who is only too happy to be in the spotlight.

After more than ten years of research for the catalogue raisonné, his specialist knowledge can hardly be doubted. The fact that he retroactively made himself co-organizer of the big Bacon exhibition in Düsseldorf in 2006 is only one of many questionable aspects regarding Harrison. Armin Zweite, then director of the NRW art collections and curator of the show, says: "I met him once or twice, he came relatively late and wrote a good article about Bacon and photography."

The fact that Harrison is now presenting around 100 newly discovered Bacons amazes Second: "After all the experiences of recent times, that puzzles you." The renowned art historian considers it questionable to write discarded pictures back into his oeuvre: "If an artist says that I have discarded that, then one would have to accept it." Harrison and the Estate sell the finds as a sensation. At the end of May, they invited visitors to preview the catalogue in a Bacon show set up especially for this day in the Soho district. On the walls: six major Bacon works. Harrison whispers about the origin of the pictures, they came from "very private private collections". Others were discovered in a locked warehouse in Chelsea, along with several other paintings that Bacon discarded.

The paintings had to be hoisted to the first floor with a crane, and an employee of the publishing house slept in the exhibition for fear that the work would be stolen. Harrison, in a green velvet vest and a blue jacket, goes to the microphone. "This is the beginning of something," he says. Later in the conversation he cannot answer who inherited the estate after John Edwards’ death, nor who is on the board of the Bacon Estate: "Brian Clarke is the director of the Bacon Estate, I have no idea of ​​the legal situation. It there are trustees, or whatever their name is. I don’t even know who they are. " He would just have to ask his son: Ben Harrison works at the Bacon Estate.

The paintings had to be hoisted to the first floor with a crane, and an employee of the publishing house slept in the exhibition for fear that the work would be stolen. Harrison, in a green velvet vest and a blue jacket, goes to the microphone. "This is the beginning of something," he says. Later in the conversation he cannot answer who inherited the Estate after John Edwards’ death, nor who is on the board of the Bacon Estate: "Brian Clarke is the director of the Bacon Estate, I have no idea of ​​the legal situation. It there are trustees, or whatever their name is. I don’t even know who they are. " He would just have to ask his son: Ben Harrison works at the Bacon Estate.

Harrison presented his findings to a committee that ultimately decided on inclusion in the catalogue. Art historian and current director of Gagosian’s London office, Richard Calvocoressi, confirms this: "I was a member of the committee from its inception in 2006 until last year, 2015, when I moved to the Gagosian Gallery. We usually met twice a year."


"A catalogue of works is not a hit parade"

The task of the committee was to decide whether it was real or not. "Sometimes I had great effort to convince them: No, this really is Bacon! There are about 20 works in the catalogue that should actually be destroyed. But they came into the world one way or another, mostly because someone stole them But I am not God, if it exists I have to record it. A catalogue of works is not a hit parade.

Harrison gets going. He just guarantees that there is not a single fake Bacons among the 584 paintings in the catalogue, when he turns to Rome, to the painter Caravaggio: "I know exactly what I’m talking about. I know absolutely. The Narcissus of Caravaggio in Rome is not from Caravaggio. Because I say it!"

Regarding the return of the pictures listed as destroyed in the catalogue of works in 1964, Harrison says: "Bacon didn’t really care. He wasn’t an accountant. I saw most of the destroyed pictures. And how could I have seen them when they were destroyed in 1964? End the discussion!"

The man is controversial. And whoever meets him has an idea why. Edward Lucie-Smith, poet, author, art expert, photographer and intimate connoisseur of the London art scene, describes Harrison as "extremely ruthless. He lists himself as the" king of Bacon attributions. "Bacon would be extremely unhappy with all the work that is now being done appeared in the catalogue, says Lucie-Smith. The enormous attention that the market is currently paying to Bacon and that the Estate is fueling with its activities is Harrison’s great opportunity to advance his career. In Monaco he has curated a major Bacon show, modified, she moved on to the Guggenheim Bilbao, trying to turn the marginalized figure Francis Bacon into a socially acceptable artist. He often plays down violent sexuality. Harrison insists there are only eleven pictures of men having sex. In contrast, there are 18 depictions of naked women.

Thirteen works from the period up to 1964 alone, which did not appear in the first catalogue raisonné, were exhibited in the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco – and many more from the period after that. Harrison presented them between dark curtains, each on their own walls, partly staged on stair landings and spectacularly illuminated with spotlights out of the darkness. Finds that are now powerfully inscribed in the canon of Bacon’s great works

The aim of the exhibition was to stylize Bacon’s stays in Monaco between 1946 and 1949 as key moments in his career. Rothenstein stated as early as 1964: "Although Bacon tried to paint when he lived in Monte Carlo, he realized that he could hardly achieve anything there and had to come back to London to work for his exhibition."

Harrison is now spreading the opposite. No wonder: an important partner of Harrison and sponsor of exhibitions, catalogues and research projects is the Lebanese philanthropist and luxury hotel owner Majid Boustany, who lives in Monaco. A Bacon madman, wealthy, enthusiastic and his passion for collecting can hardly be stopped. In the meantime he has established a foundation, opened his own museum in the small monarchy and, according to Harrison, owns the largest private Bacon collection in the world. Harrison also advises Boustany on acquisitions and the direction of its collection. "I should stop taking money for it," he adds.

It can only be speculated whether Bacon, the great destroyer, would approve of even one of these entire actions. His companions and also those who have studied him intensely doubt that. And here even Harrison agrees with his critics: "Thank God Bacon is not here. A horrible man, pain in the ass. He would never have let this happen." 




                          Photo of Francis Bacon in his studio in 1972




Paintbrushes at the ready




Sebastian Smee’s subjects include Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon 

— whose rivalry was, surprisingly, complicated by a sexual element





When the old curmudgeon Edgar Degas died in 1917, a stunning trove of works by Edouard Manet — eight paintings, 14 drawings and 60 prints — was discovered in his studio. There, too, was a portrait of Manet and his wife Suzanne, painted by Degas 50 years earlier. But its right-hand third was missing — which included half of Suzanne’s body and all of the piano she was playing. For some reason, Manet had put a knife through the canvas and sent Degas packing with what remained.

The duo’s relationship is one of four ‘friendly rivalries’ considered by the Boston Globe art critic, Sebastian Smee, in his new book (Matisse vs Picasso, Pollock vs de Kooning and Bacon vs Freud being the others). In each case, Smee reckons, competition between the pair changed the course of modern art. And this wasn’t a matter of sworn enemies slugging it out for art-world supremacy, but of ‘yielding, intimacy and openness to influence’ inspiring the respective parties to greater heights.

Smee avoids chronological order, which is a pity, because with that we might have followed the influence of each pair on the succeeding one. He begins with Bacon and Freud, perhaps because theirs is the relationship he knows most about (his previous five books have all been on Freud). Or perhaps it’s because their relationship was the juiciest, with a hint of the sexual about it. Bacon’s one-time neighbour, the art critic David Sylvester, insisted that, for all Freud’s reputation as a ladies’ man, ‘Lucian clearly had a crush on Francis’.

The pair were 22 and 35 respectively when they met in 1945, and Smee steers us engagingly through the ensuing years, as Bacon — going from strength to strength — snapped British art out of its neo-romantic comfort zone into a new world scarred by the horrors of the second world war. The pair saw each other on an almost daily basis, and gradually a Bacon-inspired Freud — dispensing with his old sentimentality and revelling in the viscosity of oil paint — achieved a greatness of his own.

Smee is a gifted storyteller. This is clearest in the Picasso-Matisse chapter, as he ratchets up the tension before the pair’s fraught first meeting at the Spaniard’s studio in Montmartre in 1906; and also, later, as he jump-cuts headily between them, as Henri and Pablo create masterpiece after masterpiece across Paris from each other.

With so many paintings under consideration, it’s regrettable that just 14 are reproduced. A bigger problem, though, is that Smee’s wish for a compelling narrative comes, at times, at the expense of fact. I lost track of how often he makes claims he has no means of standing up. To give two examples: Matisse’s inner insecurity, in contrast to his outward urbanity, ‘was something that Picasso, preternaturally alert to weakness in others, must have grasped’. Meanwhile, leaving his native Holland for the US, inflated ‘within de Kooning a yearning for fellowship, for the camaraderie of… a pilgrim on the same hard path’. The would-be novelist in Smee regularly trumps the historian.

In each of the four relationships, there seems to have been a period of a few years of peak intensity — and in the case of Pollock and de Kooning, the end was hastened by the former’s death at the wheel of his car. (Pollock’s lover Ruth Kligman survived the crash and, within a year, became de Kooning’s girlfriend.)

I must admit I wasn’t aware that Pollock, the macho drunk from Wyoming, was Tennessee Williams’s inspiration for Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire. But, in the main, there’s not much in this book that’s new, which is perhaps unsurprising, at a mere 85 pages per face-off. Might Smee have been wiser to have focused on just one of his four duos and writing a joint biography? Possibly — but, to be fair, his whole point is to stress the similarity between the different rivalries.

One artist always seems to have been methodical and technically gifted, the other impulsive and instinctive; one artist tends to have been socially adept, the other rather reticent; one artist seems to have been senior while the other played catch-up… before the rubbing off on (and up against) each other began in earnest.

Parallels between the four relationships are striking, but you can’t help but feel Smee’s blanket approach is reductive. Artistic inspiration is notoriously tricky to pinpoint. What’s more, in this case we’re dealing with eight of the most brilliantly outlandish individuals in art history. They’re surely the last people whose behaviour and feats we should be trying to explain by way of a pattern.

Heaven only knows what prompted Manet to slash that picture of him by Degas — or, for that matter, why Degas decided to keep it.




Francis Bacon: from Picasso to Velázquez at Guggenheim Bilbao




Francis Bacon’s work is something that only seems to reveal itself as time goes on, and through ever renewed lenses.

When I was younger the anguish and fervent, incomprehensible levels of emotion made me turn away from it, as though it was too much to bear. It didn’t seem overwhelming at first; I just thought it wasn’t for me, until new ways of understanding gradually began to reveal themselves. One such moment was embarrassingly recently, with the Tate’s text-based campaign that revealed Bacon’s Triptych - August 1972. “You describe obsessive love as something you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy,” it reads. It continues: “The day before your first Tate Retrospective your partner is found dead…History mockingly repeats itself. Nearly a decade later, just before your Retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris, your next partner is found dead from an overdose in your hotel room.”

The triptych is this horrific torture realised in brutal brushstrokes; one, two, three canvases of utter trauma. While I recalled snippets of the work’s story, to have it spelled out so plainly was enough to shed a silent tear at the unimaginable horrors behind the work.

It would be easy to believe that all contexts through which to view Bacon’s work have already been explored; he’s surely one of the most exhibited, written about and discussed artists of the 20th Century, such is the vastness of his output and the narratives that surround him and his work. But a new exhibition, Francis Bacon: From Picasso to Velazquez, at the Guggenheim in Bilbao, hones in on yet another avenue: Bacon’s relationship to Spanish artists.

Curiously, it takes a long look at the impact on Bacon of a work he never in fact saw “in the flesh”, and one that it was impossible for the Guggenheim to acquire – Velazquez’s 1650 Portrait of Pope Innocent X. The image is said to have obsessed Bacon throughout his career, so much so that given the chance to see it in real life in Rome, he refused, instead choosing to savour it as he remembered so vividly from reproductions.

The exhibition intersperses a huge and impressive series of works by Bacon alongside works that impacted him and his career, beginning with Picasso. In Bacon’s words, he was the artist who “opened the door to all these systems. I have tried to stick my foot in the door so that it does not close.”

And it remained open, welcoming in a breeze of other influences, which as From Picasso to Velazquez demonstrates includes Toulouse-Lautrec for his haunting figures; Braque and Gris’ Cubist compositions and muted tones; El Greco’s trapped and darkened protagonists; Rodin’s exposed human corporealities, and the bleak, powerful sketches of Alberto Giacometti.

Presented almost like the most prized and choicest galleried scrapbook, Bacon’s visions take on new fronds of meaning. The pieces of his curious and powerful puzzle gradually move into clearer focus, though never so much as to lose their intrinsic mystery. It’s harrowing to be in a room filled with the cage paintings, men howling and entrapped in oil painted shackles. Yet it’s joyful and life affirming to see the vibrant hues of late works, as shown in the final room, “Life Essence”; where bright swathes of colour backdrop disfigured objects and bodies.

It makes for a show that gives layers and layers of meaning and inference; one that you could easily visit again and again and always come away with something new. It’s exhaustive, and exhausting. From Picasso to Velazquez is accompanied by detailed wall text narrating Bacon’s life and sources, and a revealing snippet tells of the influence of T S Eliot’s poems and plays on Bacon. For the confusing flotsam and jetsam of life, beauty, sex, figures, death, meaning, confusion and of course artistic genius that make up Bacon and his legacy, the words of Eliot’s Waste Land seem utterly apt. “These fragments I have shored against my ruins.”
As this exhibition proves, there are so many fragments, and so many ruins, and it’s only in the hands of artistic greatness that we can start to fathom them, if we ever fathom them at all.

“Shall we ever meet again?
And who will meet again?
Meeting is for strangers.
Meeting is for those who do not know each other.”
― T.S. Eliot, The Family Reunion

Francis Bacon: from Picasso to Velazquez runs from 30 September 2016 to 8 January 2017 at Guggenheim Bilbao






Francis Bacon Guggenheim Exhibition

Reveals Influences Of The Great Masters





The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is currently featuring a retrospective of the 20th century British/Irish artist Francis Bacon. Considered one of the most important artists of his time, Francis Bacon: From Picasso to Velázquez surveys more than six decades of the artist’s painting, displaying an impressive selection of his paintings alongside those of some of the Spanish and French masters who influenced him the most. This is one of the most daring exhibitions of Bacon’s work ever to be mounted and showcases many works never before displayed in public and offers an interesting insight into his work, especially later works which are in private collections.

This show reveals the importance that Bacon attached to tradition and allows visitors to grasp one of the keys to his creative impetus. Even though Bacon’s work embodies modernity and expresses the angst common to men of his time, he also boldly and ambitiously revisits and carries on the legacy of the great masters while providing referents to the culture of his day and age. The human figure is at the core of most of his compositions, which reflect a stark existentialist view of the individual. Bacon painted extraordinarily expressive portraits with a large dose of authenticity, which means being alive in all senses and with all its consequences. He sought to capture the mystery of life and reduce reality to its essence, synthesizing it in the guise of paint. Iberdrola’s support of this show on the British artist with Irish roots is part of our close partnership with the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, as well as our commitment to disseminating art and culture wherever we operate. I would like to congratulate everyone who has worked to put together this wonderfully broad and representative selection of paintings from Francis Bacon’s career. It is very gratifying for Iberdrola, in its role as a patron of the arts, to have contributed to materializing a project which allows us to further explore the oeuvre of an exceptional artist.

The exhibition seamlessly displays 80 works many large scale,  including some of the most important and yet least exhibited paintings by this artist, alongside the works of the classic masters from French and Spanish culture who played a huge role in his career. Transgressive in both is life and his art, Bacon broke down many barriers that were deeply entrenched at the time, placing human beings in front of a mirror in which we could see ourselves in a raw, violent way. Francis Bacon was a fervent Francophile. He was an avid consumer of French literature by authors like Racine, Balzac, Baudelaire and Proust and passionate about the art of Picasso and Van Gogh, both of whom lived in France, and the painters who preceded them like Degas, Manet, Gauguin, Seurat and Matisse. Bacon lived in and frequently visited France and the Principality of Monaco. As an adolescent, he discovered Nicolas Poussin’s Massacre of the Innocents (1628–1629) near Chantilly, and in 1927 he had a revelatory encounter with Picasso’s work when he visited the exhibition Cent dessins par Picasso in the Paul Rosenberg Gallery in Paris, which, in fact, spurred him to decide to embark on his career as a painter. In 1946, he left London for Monaco, where he lived for three crucial years in his career, and where he would regularly return until 1990. 

Bacon always regarded his retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1971 as the peak of his career, even though it came at one of the most tragic times of his life, just after the death of his partner, and despite the fact that he had held major retrospectives in London and elsewhere. Throughout his career, Francis Bacon continued to develop ever closer ties with Paris, as attested to by the portraits of his Parisian friends and that fact that he kept a studio in Le Marais until 1985. After his initial contact with Picasso’s oeuvre in the 1920’s and 1930’s, Bacon’s influence from Spanish culture is the most obvious in his obsession with the portrait of Pope Innocent X that Velázquez painted in 1650, which would serve as Bacon’s inspiration for more than 50 works. Curiously, Francis Bacon never saw this Velázquez painting, which hangs at the Doria Pamphilj Gallery in Rome, in person; when he had the chance to lay eyes on it during his visit to the Italian capital in 1954, he preferred instead to retain the reproductions in his memory instead of seeing the original painting. In addition to Velázquez, he was also fascinated by other classic Spanish painters such as Zurbarán, El Greco and Goya, whose paintings he fervently admired at Madrid’s Museo del Prado, a museum he asked to visit alone just a few years before his death after seeing the Velázquez retrospective held there in 1990. Francis Bacon died on a brief visit to Madrid in 1992, and even though he never had a permanent home in Spain, he was known to have made extended sojourns in Málaga and visits to Seville, Utrera and Madrid. 

Born into a wealthy British family living in rural Ireland, a place of upheaval in the early 20th century, Francis Bacon was confronted with Pablo Picasso’s work in Paris’s Paul Rosenberg Gallery at the tender age of 17. Bacon himself revealed that this signaled his shift towards a career in art; this is attested to in some of his earliest works, such as Composition (Figure) (1933), which clearly references Picasso’s works from the 1920’s, especially Las casetas, the series depicting deformed bathers holding a key, an object that fascinated Picasso and seduced Bacon as well. Starting with absolutely no technical training, Bacon gradually entered the world of art and quickly assimilated what other creators near him, such as Roy de Maistre, were able to teach him. The mere handful of paintings that have survived from this time—Bacon was dissatisfied with most of them and destroyed them—attest to his early influence from Analytical and Synthetic Cubism, and from Picasso’s biomorphic Cubism, which would lead Bacon to develop a language of his own. This vocabulary garnered recognition for the first time in 1933, when the critic Herbert Read reproduced Bacon’s Crucifixion (1933) in a privileged spot, opposite Picasso’s Bather (1929) in his publication Art Now: An Introduction to the Theory of Modern Painting and Sculpture. Even though Bacon received this recognition at the start of his career and at a After World War II, in which Francis Bacon worked in a civil capacity because of his chronic asthma, the artist’s work was once again recognized by critics and the public. He also drew the attention of gallery owner Erica Brausen, who soon exhibited his paintings in different European countries. In 1948, the Museum of Modern Art of New York purchased its first Bacon work from Brausen. During this period, the artist created a new universe of images conceived via literature, film, art, and his own life. Bacon approached this iconography using a unique language, reflecting human vulnerability with utter rawness. Somewhere between human and animal—as in some of Eadweard Muybridge’s photographs—the figures begin to appear enclosed and entrapped in cages or cubes. Bacon used this device to focus the viewer’s attention on the figures, which were smudged or disfigured, reduced to strokes of greyish and bluish colours reminiscent of El Greco and the drawings of Alberto Giacometti, which Bacon preferred over his sculptures. Later in this period, Bacon also paid homage to Vincent van Gogh, whom he evoked through his loose brushwork and bright palette, which contrast with the dark figures in other paintings. Bacon was fascinated by the way Van Gogh veered away from the rules and literal reality in favour of expressiveness.

Until 08/ 01/2017 Guggenheim Museum Bilbao




Francis Bacon: Picasso to Velázquez at Guggenheim Bilbao






                     Diego Velázquez  The Buffoon el Primo, 1644  



Francis Bacon: From Picasso to Velázquez at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao highlights the influence of Spanish and French culture on the work of Francis Bacon, offering a new perspective on the Irish-born British artist’s fascinating oeuvre.

Over a 60-year career, Bacon became known for reinventing the portrait with the contorted bodies of his isolated nude figures, placing human beings in front of a mirror in which they are faced with their own vulnerabilities and challenged with seeing themselves in a raw and violent way.

“I think art is an obsession with life and after all, as we are human beings, our greatest obsession is with ourselves. Then possibly with Animals, and then with Landscapes,” Bacon said in an interview with David Sylvester in 1966.

“What I want to do is to distort the thing far beyond the appearance, but in the distortion to bring it back to a recording of the appearance, he said. “…who today has been able to record anything that comes across to us as a fact without causing deep injury to the image?”

The exhibition of almost 80 works presents 50 of the most important and yet least exhibited of Bacon’s paintings alongside around 30 works by the French and Spanish masters whose work had such profound impact on Bacon’s work.



              Francis Bacon Study for Portrait of Van Gogh I, 1956



Bacon was a keen Francophile who was passionate about the work of Picasso, Van Gogh, Degas, Manet, Gauguin, Seurat, and Matisse, and was also an avid reader of French literature by the likes of Racine, Balzac, Baudelaire and Proust.

His decision to take up paintings was influenced by an encounter with the work of Picasso at Paul Rosenberg Gallery in Paris in 1927 – the same year he discovered Nicolas Poussin’s The Massacre of the Innocents 1628-29, which also left an indelible impression on the young artist.

“Picasso opened the door to all these systems. I have tried to stick my foot in the door so that it does not close. Picasso was one of that genius caste which includes Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Van Gogh, and above all Velázquez,” Bacon once said.

The influence on Spanish culture on Bacon’s work is epitomized by his obsession with Velázquez’s 1650 portrait of Pope Innocent X, but he was also fascinated by the work of other classical masters such as Zurbarán, El Greco, and Goya.

Bacon called Velázquez’s portrait one of the greatest portraits ever made. “I buy book after book with this illustration in it of the Velázquez Pope, because it just haunts me, and it opens up all sorts of feelings and areas of […] imagination,” he explained.

Organized by the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in collaboration with Grimaldi Forum Monaco, and curated by Martin Harrison, author of the Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné, Francis Bacon: From Picasso to Velázquez exemplifies Bacon’s pioneering and visionary practice.

Exhibition highlights include Bacon’s Three Studies for a Crucifixion 1962, Composition (Figure) 1933, Study for Portrait of Van Gogh I 1956, Study after Velazquez 1950, Study for Self-Portrait 1976, Three Studies of Figures on Beds 1972, and Portrait of Michel Leiris 1976.

Other notable works include Alberto Giacometti’s Buste of a Man in a Frame (Buste d’homme dans un cadre) ca. 1946, Francisco de Goya’s Tauromachy (Tauromaquia) 1816, John Phillip’s La Bomba 1863, and Diego Velázquez’s The Buffoon el Primo 1644.

Francis Bacon: From Picasso to Velázquez is at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao until 8/1/2017




Some of the best modern art grew out of the

egotistical clashes of its leading lights


The volatile relationships of eight rivalrous painters


Lynn Barber




This intriguing book is about four pairs of artists (Freud and Bacon, Manet and Degas, Matisse and Picasso, Pollock and de Kooning) and their influence on each other. But as Sebastian Smee admits, the title is a bit of a fudge because these artists were not rivals exactly. Freud, for instance, acknowledged that Bacon was the better painter (he hung Bacon’s Two Figures in his living room till he died), whereas Bacon had little interest in Freud’s work, though he enjoyed his company. What Smee is really dealing with is periods of intense friendship, when one artist energised another.

In each case, Smee starts by examining a particular work that has some bearing on the friendship. The most haunting by far is Degas’s 1868 portrait of Manet and his wife, which now hangs, badly damaged, in an obscure Japanese museum. The painting shows Manet lounging on a sofa looking bored while his wife, Suzanne, plays the piano. We see the whole of Manet but only his wife’s back, because a third of the painting has been sliced off, taking her face (and piano) with it. Apparently, Degas found the painting in this state some time after he gave it to the Manets and was so upset he walked out without ever, it seems, getting an explanation.

By the time Degas painted the portrait, he had been close friends with the Manets for seven years and had often attended musical evenings in their apartment. He liked painting people listening to music because they tended to sit still but without the self-consciousness of portrait sitters. And Suzanne often did play the piano to Manet at home, so it was a perfectly realistic scene. In fact, she had been piano teacher to Manet’s younger siblings when they met and he got her pregnant. She was then 22, he 19, and they raised their son Leon as his godson and Suzanne’s brother. Manet married Suzanne only when his father, a judge, died in 1863 by which time Leon was 11.,Perhaps Degas had somehow' guessed their secret? Perhaps that’s why Manet slashed the portrait? Years later, when Degas had forgiven Manet, he offered to repaint the missing third, but he never did.

The Freud-Bacon section focuses on the theft of Freud’s 1952 portrait of Bacon from a Berlin museum in 1988. It was a tiny work, no bigger than a postcard, painted on copper, and entailed Bacon sitting for Freud for three months knee to knee. Freud intended to give it to Wheeler’s restaurant where they often dined together, but the Tate bought it immediately, and years later lent it to the British Council for a Freud retrospective to be shown in Washington, Paris, London and Berlin.

This was a big breakthrough for Freud, because it was the first time his work had been seen abroad and marked the start of his international fame (and vastly increased prices). He insisted on showing in Berlin rather than, £2 say, Munich, because it was his birthplace. But one Friday afternoon, a visitor noticed a blank space on the wall — the Bacon I portrait had gone. Security was lax and there were many students in the gallery at the time. It was almost certainly an amateur job, all it needed was a screws driver, and no ransom was ever demanded. Years later, Freud put posters all over Berlin offering a reward of DM300,000, but the painting never resurfaced. The art critic Robert Hughes tried to console him by saying that whoever stole it must be a great fan, but Freud demurred: “I’m not sure I agree. I think somebody out there really loves Francis.”

The Matisse-Picasso section concentrates on the early years of their long and wary relationship when both were being wooed by Gertrude and Leo Stein, but the story is better told in Hilary Spurling’s and John Richardson’s biographies. The Pollock-de Kooning relationship is more interesting. Both hugely admired by fellow artists, they were unknown outside the small New York art world (de Kooning had only sold one painting) until 1949 when Life featured Pollock under the headline: “Is he the greatest living painter in the US?” Asked which painters he admired, Pollock nominated de Kooning, and both artists were sent to represent America at the 1950 Venice Biennale. Now dubbed “action painters”, they enjoyed a few years of success before Pollock died in a car crash in 1956 and de Kooning took over his girlfriend, Ruth Kligman, and announced: “I’m number one.” lie lived until 1997, long enough for his reputation to fade while Pollock’s continued to soar.

Smee writes beautifully, but his book has an odd structure. He starts from a particular moment and then proceeds outwards in widening circles, following various digressions that might or might not prove relevant, and never quite reaching any conclusion. It made me feel that my interest had been whetted rather than sated, and I immediately wanted to read full biographies of some of the artists whose lives I knew less about. No harm in that, in fact all to the good, but it makes me hesitate to recommend the book. It is tantalising, but ultimately unsatisfying.

THE ART OF RIVALRY Four Friendships, Betrayals and Breakthroughs in Modern Art by SEBASTIAN SMEE Profile £16.99 pp390




Francis Bacon



Monaco and Bilbao; Liverpool and Stuttgart





FRANCIS BACON’S LIFELONG passion for France and French art and culture is well documented. Many of Bacon’s paintings are inspired by French artists such as Ingres, Degas, Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec and Gauguin, or indeed artists who lived there, such as Van Gogh, Giacometti and Picasso. Apartfrom Paris, Bacon spent significant periods of time in Monaco, with his longest stay there spanning the years 1946–49, when gambling at the Casino was a key attraction. It was in Monaco that he painted his first papal portrait, Landscape with Pope/Dictator (c.1946; not exhibited), and where he started to paint on the unprimed reverse of the canvas, a hugely significant change in his modus operandi. Bacon travelled extensively in the south of France from the 1950s onwards. From 1975 to 1987 he kept an apartment in Paris at 14 rue de Birague in the Marais district. Close French friends included Michel Leiris, Jacques Dupin, Claude Bernard, Eddy Batache and Reinhard Hassert.

Francis Bacon, Monaco and French Culture at the Grimaldi Forum, Monaco (closed 4th September), was the first Bacon exhibition to focus specifically on this French connection.1 Its significance was demonstrated through sixty-six paintings by Bacon accompanied by judiciously chosen works by artists who had inspired him. It was unique in that it featured both Bacon’s first and last works, Watercolour (1929; cat. no.24) and Study of a Bull (1991; no.61). The exhibition had nine thematic sections: ‘Influences’, ‘The Cry’, ‘The Human Body’, ‘The “Caverne Noire”’, ‘France and Monaco’, ‘The Triumph of the Grand Palais’, ‘Portraits’, ‘The Reece Mews Studio’ and ‘Final Works’. In response to the cavernous space of the Grimaldi Forum, a multi-purpose conference centre, the curator, Martin Harrison, and the in-house designers opted for a theatrical presentation in keeping with Bacon’s own aesthetic. A debt to the influential stage designers Adolphe Appia (1862– 1928) and Edward Gordon Craig (1872–1966) was evident in the use of verticals, horizontals and diagonals throughout and the bold, dramatic use of light. Metal structures were suspended from the ceiling or used to divide rooms in reference to the cage motif in Bacon’s art.

In the first room, Watercolour (no.24) and Painting (c.1930; no.26) were displayed alongside works by Léger, Toulouse-Lautrec and Jean Lurçat, demonstrating how early on Bacon’s art was informed by French painting. One’s eye was drawn inexorably to the next room, through a series of four vertical pillars, to a nineteenth-century copy of Velázquez’s Portrait of Innocent X (no.47), the departure point for Bacon’s most famous series of paintings. The verticality of the pillars echoed the striated or shuttered effect in many of Bacon’s paintings from the 1950s. The ‘Odessa Steps’ sequence from Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin was shown on a loop, appropriately merging the painting and film in the visitor’s mind. Placed in front of the Velázquez was a series of steps, suggesting that one should kneel in veneration. This device was employed again later in the exhibition, in front of Triptych – Studies of the Human Body (1970; no.51), to reference the steps and columns of the Grand Palais, where the triptych was first shown in Bacon’s exhibition in 1971. However, the steps infer quasi-religious associations even though Bacon, a self-professed atheist, used the triptych format for purely secular purposes.

The ‘Caverne Noire’ featured works for which Bacon employed a very restricted palette. Enormous, rich velvet drapes in papal purple lined the walls and, coupled with exceptionally dim lighting, lent a majestic yet oppressive, claustrophobic air to the room. This reviewer felt that this room was over contrived and dark. More sympathetic lighting might have allowed the viewer to appreciate fully the subtleties of Bacon’s colours and techniques, especially with works such as Landscape near Malabata, Tangier (1963; n0.11) and Sea (c.1953; no.43). Study for Portrait of Van Gogh I (1956; no.31) showed Bacon’s emergence from these dark tones, which came to fruition in Study for a Portrait of Van Gogh VI (1957; no.32), exhibited in the next room. Its intense, vivid colours and gestural brushwork reflect Bacon’s admiration for Chaim Soutine’s Céret landscapes, of which a superb example, Le Gros Arbre bleu (c.1920–21; no.34), was included.

Several exceptional paintings devoted to the human body were featured, ranging from Seated Figure (1962; no.70) and Figure in Movement (1972; no.1) to Man at Washbasin (1989– 90; no.63). Seated Woman (1961; no.36), one of the ten female nudes Bacon painted between 1959 and 1962, looked magnificent. Rodin’s monumental Muse Whistler, grand modèle (1908; no.17) was apposite given the presence of Rodin’s influence in most of Bacon’s lying, reclining and sleeping figures from 1959 to 1961.2 One notable omission was Ingres, whom Bacon certainly admired. A number of Bacon’s paintings are variations on works by Ingres, although Bacon did not put him in the first rank, which may explain his exclusion.

Two sections were devoted specifically to French themes. Paradoxically, Bacon would destroy much of what he had painted in Monaco between 1946 and 1949, but its landscape features in works such as Dog (1952; no.10), in which the coast road with palm trees is based on postcards of Monaco. A further link was made concerning Fragment of a Crucifixion (1950; no.9; Fig.82), when the outline in black paint in the top-left corner was identified during the installation as being the shape of La Tête de Chien, a high rocky promontory above Monaco. The exhibition at the Grand Palais in 1971 was a triumph for Bacon. He painted five major triptychs for itand other paintings such as Lying Figure in a Mirror (1971; no.52), which hung in close proximity to Picasso’s Femme couchée à la mèche blonde (1932; no.50) in the present exhibition, a placement that works exceptionally well. The Grand Palais exhibition was marred by personal tragedy for Bacon when George Dyer died from an overdose at the Hôtel des Saints Pères in Paris on 24th October 1971, two days before the opening. Portrait of a Man Walking Down Steps (1972; no.13) is a deeply affecting painting and depicts Dyer on the steps of the hotel. The brighter lighting in the final room is in keeping with the subject of these late works, both of which highlight the artist’s interest in bullfighting, which was partially inspired by Leiris’s text Miroir de la Tauromachie (1938). In Triptych (1987; no.60), the violence of the bullfight is evoked through the gored limbs and the brooding presence of the bull.

Francis Bacon: Invisible Rooms at the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart (7th October to 8th January), seen by this reviewer at its previous venue, Tate Liverpool, also marks a first in terms of Bacon exhibitions by focusing on the linear framework known as the ‘spaceframe’ in Bacon’s œuvre from the 1930s onwards.3 Featuring thirty paintings alongside drawings and items from Bacon’s studio at 7 Reece Mews, it traces the development of this spatial motif throughout his career. The genesis of the exhibition lies with the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, whose book Francis Bacon: Logic of Sensation (1981) analysed and classified these ‘spaceframes’. Bacon employed versions of these devices from 1929 until 1988 and, according to Harrison in his new catalogue raisonné, they are present in approximately twenty-two per cent of his paintings. 4

The purpose of this device is the delineation and isolation of the space in which the body is placed. Bacon rejected any suggestion that the structures had a psychological dimension or were intended to convey isolation or claustrophobia, but explained them in formal terms as a device for concentrating the image and seeing it more clearly, referring to them as ‘a box’. Many viewers of Bacon paintings focus on the contorted figures and the painterly quality of his work and overlook how skilled and, indeed, mathematically minded Bacon was in creating these complex structures, often using rulers and T-squares. This exhibition deftly draws attention back to this facet of Bacon’s art.

The exhibition runs chronologically but works are arranged thematically over five rooms, starting with ‘Crucifixion’, followed by ‘Cage’, ‘Subject’ and ‘Space, Arena’, and ending with ‘Mirror/Image’. It includes crucial works such as Crucifixion (1933), Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944), Figure Study II (1945–46), Man in Blue IV (1954), Chimpanzee (1955) and, through to the 1980s, Untitled (Kneeling Figure) (c.1982). The groupings of paintings worked particularly well. After Muybridge Woman Emptying a Bowl of Water and Paralytic Child Walking on All Fours (1965) and Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne Standing in a Street in Soho (1967) look particularly strong together and demonstrate greater complexity in terms of Bacon’s spatial arrangements.

Triptych (1967; Fig.83),5 one of Bacon’s most complex works, is placed on a freestanding false wall alone and commands the visitor’s attention. This is the pictorial embodiment of what Bacon meant when he spoke about using the device to intensify the figure. Through the geometrical structures one’s attention is focused on the exquisite painterly quality of the sensuous nude figures and the heavily blood-stained pile of clothes. The drawings and original studio items on display serve to emphasise both how the theme of enclosure was a persistent one, and the principal formal devices Bacon used in his paintings, the rectilinear frame, circles, ellipses and arcs, are omnipresent. These exhibitions demonstrate two unique approaches to Bacon, and aficionados and newcomers to Bacon’s art alike could not fail to be impressed by what they offer.

1 Catalogue: Francis Bacon: France and Monaco. Edited by Martin Harrison, with contributions by Majid Boutany, Carol Jacobi, Rebecca Daniels et al. 240 pp. incl. 100 col. + b. & w. ills. (Heni Publishing, London, 2016), £35. ISBN 978–0–9568738–8–0. The exhibition is now on view in altered form at the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, where Bacon’s connection to Spanish culture is emphasised; to 8th January.

2 M. Harrison: exh. cat. Movement and Gravity: Bacon and Rodin in Dialogue, London (Ordovas) 2013, p.11.

3 The exhibition’s catalogue is to be published upon the opening of its second leg in Stuttgart.

4 M. Harrison: Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné. London 2016, 1, p.14; to be reviewed.

5 This work was previously known as Triptych Inspired by T.S. Eliot’s ‘Sweeney Agonistes’, but was recently retitled in the catalogue raisonné as Bacon had always complained about its long title.





                                                  Fragment of a Crucifixion, by Francis Bacon. 1950. Canvas, 140 by 108.5 cm. 





Francis Bacon: From Picasso to Velázquez



Guggenheim Bilbao | September 30, 2016–January 8, 2017 



E-FLUX | 28 September, 2016


The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao presents Francis Bacon: From Picasso to Velázquez, an exhibition of some 80 works including some of the most important and yet least exhibited paintings by this British artist born in Ireland, alongside the works of the classic masters from French and Spanish culture. Portraits, nudes, landscapes, bullfighting… the exhibition offers a new perspective on Bacon’s oeuvre by highlighting the influences exerted on his art.

Transgressive in both his life and art, Bacon broke down many barriers that were deeply entrenched at the time, placing human beings in front of a mirror in which we could see ourselves in a raw, violent way. Bacon’s nudes tend to feature isolated figures in everyday poses which the painter transformed by twisting their bodies into almost animal-like shapes, thus reinventing the portrait.

Francis Bacon was a fervent francophile. He was an avid consumer of French literature by authors like Racine, Balzac, Baudelaire and Proust and passionate about the art of Picasso and Van Gogh, and the painters who preceded them like Degas, Manet, Gauguin, Seurat, and Matisse. As an adolescent, he discovered Nicolas Poussin’s Massacre of the Innocents (1628–29) near Chantilly, and in 1927 he had a revelatory encounter with Picasso’s work when he visited the exhibition Cent dessins par Picasso in the Paul Rosenberg Gallery in Paris, which, in fact, spurred him to decide to embark on his career as a painter.

After his initial contact with Picasso’s oeuvre in the 1920s and 1930s, the influence of Spanish culture on Bacon’s art is most obvious in his obsession with the portrait of Pope Innocent X that Velázquez painted in 1650, which would serve as Bacon’s inspiration for more than 50 works. In addition to Velázquez, he was also fascinated by other classic Spanish painters such as Zurbarán, El Greco and Goya, whose paintings he fervently admired at Madrid’s Museo del Prado, a museum he asked to visit alone just a few years before his death after seeing the Velázquez retrospective held there in 1990.

Bacon created a new universe of images conceived via literature, film, art, and his own life using a unique language, reflecting human vulnerability with utter rawness.

Francis Bacon: From Picasso to Velázquez | September 30, 2016–January 8, 2017 

Exhibition organized by the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in collaboration with Grimaldi Forum Monaco

Curator: Martin Harrison | Sponsored by Iberdrola





Así se intentaron vender los cuadros de Bacon robados en Madrid



Una red de peristas, joyeros e intermediarios intentó colocar las obras sin éxito





Los cinco cuadros de Francis Bacon robados hace más de un año en Madrid a José Capelo, amigo y heredero del pintor, se intentaron vender en España en dos ocasiones. La última durante una reunión celebrada el pasado mes de febrero en el número cuatro de la calle Duque de Alba de Majadahonda, una casa moderna de tres alturas situada a escasos metros del paseo principal de esta localidad madrileña, según ha podido acreditar la investigación policial y describe el sumario judicial al que ha tenido acceso EL PAÍS.

El encuentro tuvo lugar en el piso en el que residía Ricardo Barbastro Heras, que mostró fotografías de uno de los cuadros robados a Antonio Losada de la Rosa, un perista de El Rastro de Madrid interesado en su compra. El vendedor pidió por el cuadro dos millones de euros y el comprador exigió hablar con el dueño de la obra y un contrato legal. La oferta no prosperó porque este último descubrió finalmente que la obra era robada.

Antonio Losada y su hijo José habían sido informados de la existencia de los cuadros de Bacon por Rafael Heredia González, un vendedor de joyas, que estuvo presente en la reunión de Majadahonda y que antes del encuentro había mostrado al padre y al hijo fotografías de uno de los retratos robados en junio de 2015 en una casa señrial situada en el número 2 de la Plaza de la Encarnación, muy cerca del Senado, en pleno centro de Madrid. El valor de los cuadros supera los 30 millones de euros y el golpe está considerado como el mayor robo de pintura contemporánea en España. Los cuatro protagonistas de este encuentro fueron detenidos por la Policía el pasado mes de marzo y están en libertad provisional en calidad de investigados (imputados) por los delitos de encubrimiento de robo con fuerza. El caso sigue envuelto en un halo de misterio porque pese a las numerosas pistas obtenidas y personas detenidas (siete) el botín continúa sin aparecer.

En septiembre de 2015, solo dos meses después del robo, se produjo el primer intento de colocar las obras. Y lo protagonizó la misma persona. Ricardo Barbastro, de 45 años, con cinco antecedentes por tráfico de drogas y lesiones, llamó a su primo Jorge de las Heras, empleado de una galería de arte, y le ofreció “unos cuadros muy buenos”. Le comentó “que las obras procedían de una pelea entre una pareja y que uno de ellos se había llevado los cuadros del otro como compensación porque le había echado de casa. El propietario de los cuadros vivía en Londres y venía muy poco a España”, según aseguró en su declaración policial. La llamada le extrañó. No habían hablado desde hacía 17 años, pero Ricardo insistió en que conociese a los vendedores y se negó a enviar fotos de los cuadros por WhatsApp.

El encuentro se celebró a principios de octubre, sobre las 14.15 horas en un bar del número 5 de la madrileña calle Doctor Fleming. Ricardo acudió con cuatro personas más, tres se sentaron en la mesa y uno permaneció sentado en la barra escuchando, pero sin intervenir. Según su relato, su primo le volvió a contar la historia de la falsa pelea y aseguró que el propietario no se había enterado porque vivía en Londres. “Les propuse sacar las obras a subasta que es donde más beneficio obtendrían, pero contestaron que no se podía porque hay un problema legal en relación con la herencia de Francis Bacon y una parte de los herederos pueden reclamar las obras. Querían saber si teníamos algún cliente interesado en la compra de cuadros de Bacon”, describió el empleado de la galería a la Policía. “Uno de ellos me dijo que podía ganar mucho dinero si buscaba un comprador”, añadió el galerista que rechazó el ofrecimiento y respondió que no conocía a nadie interesado porque “todo me pareció muy raro”.

Antes de despedirse la prometieron que le enviarían un lápiz de memoria con las fotografías de los cuadros, pero nunca se volvieron a poner en contacto. Él tampoco quiso saber nada de su primo.

Barbastro y sus acompañantes conocían detalles de las características de los cuadros robados y de su dueño, que también reside en Londres. Explicaron que las obras eran tres dibujos y dos óleos, que estaban dedicados al propietario de las obras y que uno de ellos era un retrato de este último. En realidad los cinco cuadros representan el rostro de su dueño y estaban colgados en su dormitorio donde los ladrones robaron también una caja fuerte que contenía joyas y una espléndida colección de monedas antiguas valorada en 400.000 euros. Cuando se produjo el hurto Capelo estaba pasando unos días en la capital británica.

El testigo de esta reunión ha identificado a Alfredo Cristian Ferriz, un chófer de empresa de 40 años años, como la persona que llevó “la voz cantante” durante toda la reunión en la que le ofrecieron los cuadros. Cristian, como le llaman sus amigos, un tipo alto, calvo, de brazos corpulentos y cinturón negro de kárate, tiene un largo rosario antecedentes policiales, ocho de ellos por robo con fuerza, tres por hurto de vehículos, uno por amenazas y otro por tráfico de drogas. Fue detenido junto al marchante de arte Cristóbal García, en el domicilio de este último en Madrid, porque Ricardo Barbastro afirma que Cristian es la persona que tiene en su poder los cuadros y que su amigo Cristóbal es el cerebro del golpe. Los tres se conocen. Barbastro ha declinado responder a este periódico.

Los ladrones utilizaron una cámara Canon EOS 5D Mark II alquilada en la productora madrileña Addict Studios para fotografiar el anverso y el reverso de los cinco cuadros robados y ofrecerlos a los peristas de El Rastro. Agustín González, uno de los dueños de la productora ha hecho negocios con este marchante y el albarán del alquiler está firmado por Cristóbal Caballero, nombre y segundo apellido de García. “Han utilizado mi nombre e imitado mi firma. No tengo nada que ver con estas personas aunque conozco a alguna de ellas. Soy inocente. Lo último que se me ocurriría es intentar colocar estas obras tan importantes entre peristas de El Rastro”, afirma Cristóbal García a este periódico, un marchante de arte que ha trabajado en Madrid, París y Londres. Un informe caligráfico encargado por el Juzgado que investiga el robo no ha podido acreditar que la letra sea del considerado por la Policía como presunto cerebro.

Antonio Losada, el perista del Rastro que acudió a la reunión en Majadahonda, ofreció uno de los Bacon a Juan Manuel Marce Gea, anticuario y marchante en Sitges, quien a su vez comprobó con la empresa londinense The Art Loss Register si eran o no robados. El correo que recibió este último no dejaba lugar a dudas. “Le informo que la pintura de Bacon es posiblemente una pintura robada y registrada en la base de Interpol. Mis mejores deseos”, escribió Will Korner el pasado 23 de febrero a Marce. “La pintura fue robada en Madrid el 22 de junio de 2015..”, escribió más tarde la empleada de la empresa Nina Neuhaus quien más tarde comunicó a la Brigada de patrimonio Histórico de la Policía la consulta del marchante catalán.

El anticuario catalán llevaba desde enero negociando la venta del cuadro a varios clientes con una fotografía enviada por el perista Losada y citaba abiertamente a Capelo como dueño de la obra. A dos de ellos les remitió un correo bajo el título de “peligro” en el que reproducía la información recibida desde Londres. La conversación intervenida por la Policía entre Marce y el perista Antonio Losada, el hombre que acudió a la reunión de Majadahonda y que le ofreció uno de los cuadros robados, demuestra la preocupación de ambos al descubrir que eran robados.

-Antonio Losada: “ni hablar con ellos, nada, nada.. fuera. Una ruina, una ruina..

-Juan Manuel Marce: “no tenemos edad para estas cosas… muy bonito negocio y todo lo que tu quieras, pero aquí hay gato encerrado ¿o no? Hay que chequearlo todo en esta vida, en estos momento, porque no podemos patinar. Si salen otros negocios que sean correctos y legales pues vamos, pero si no …no. No quiero líos ¿Vale?

Los Losada, padre e hijo, pese a conocer ya que los cuadros eran robados buscaron otras personas donde colocar los Bacon, según se desprende de otras conversaciones telefónicas intervenidas en marzo, semanas antes de ser detenidos.






Furies at the Base of a Crucifixion:

Francis Bacon’s Readings of “Oresteia”









Some of Bacon’s most powerful paintings were influenced by literature, his readings of the Greek tragedies, and poetry of Eliot, Yeats or Lorca. The books found in his studio were a powerful source of imagery, often more suggestive than the photographs and illustrations that littered the floor of his London studio. The contents of Bacon’s personal library are an important document of his intellectual interests and offer a wider insight on the role of literature in his art.

Bacon spent most of his life in London, except brief periods in Paris, Tangier and Monaco. In the early 1960s he settled in a small apartment in a converted stable in South Kensington where he stayed for the rest of his life. After the painter’s death the contents of the studio were transferred to the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin. In 2004 the gallery received a further donation of 670 books that belonged to the painter at the time of his death. The contents of Bacon’s personal library, catalogued in 2012 as part of a project carried out by the Hugh Lane Gallery in collaboration with Trinity College Dublin 1 , reveal a wide range of visual and intellectual themes and subjects that fascinated Bacon: medicine and anatomy, forensics, sports, cookery, animal photography, theory of evolution, supernatural phenomena, poetry, philosophy, history and politics, art and photography. A substantial part of the library was related to Greek tragedy. Bacon owned at least 4 different translations of Oresteia and various editions of the works of Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles, theoretical studies by W. B. Stanford. Bacon’s collection also included James Frazer’s The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, which amply discussed Greek rituals, Greek Myths by Robert Graves, Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy, and a number of book of poetry and plays inspired by the Greek tragedies: poems of Eliot, Yeats, versioning of the tragedies by Racine and Spender, whose Oedipus Trilogy was dedicated to Bacon.

Bacon did not receive a formal education. As a young boy he had a private teacher at his home in Ireland and later attended public school for a few years. Although he never considered artistic education as necessary or even beneficial to an artist, he did regret not having had the opportunity to learn classical languages. It is not surprising then that at least 10 manuals of modern Greek, published between 1932 and 1981, were found in his book collection. This finding suggests that he tried to learn the language by himself and never abandoned the idea of reading Aeschylus in the original and being able to perceive his writings in all their vitality.

In May interviews Bacon mentioned one book in particular, Aeschylus in His Style, written by W. B. Stanford in 1942, which influenced him greatly in the 1940s. He was particularly taken by a sentence from the Oresteia “οσμή βροτείων αιμάτων με προσγελά,” translated by Stanford as “a reek of human blood smiles out at me.” Stanford analyzed this fragment as an example of synesthetic imagery, which, “when it is a sincere description of a genuine experience it is a sign of a lively and unrestrained imagination, and, occasionally, of a mystical sense of the unity of experience.” 2 The same sentence differs greatly in the four editions of Oresteia owned by Bacon, and was translated as follows:

The smell of man’s blood laughs to meet me. 3

A reek of human blood: it’s laughter to my heart. 4

The welcome smell of human blood has told me so. 5

The scent of mortal murder laughs in my nostrils. 6

However it was Stanford’s translation that affected Bacon the most. He quoted the sentence from Aeschylus in His Style in numerous interviews, as an example of the evocative power of words. He wrongfully attributed the fragment to Cassandra’s soliloquy included in the first part of the trilogy Agamemnon. Cassandra’s vision, delivered in trance, narrates the atrocities committed in the past of the House of Atreus, including infanticide and cannibalism. Soon after she accepts her fate and enters the palace, although she knows she will be murdered there.

In fact, the fragment that Bacon found so suggestive belongs to the 3rd part of the Oresteia, Eumenides, and is pronounced by the leader of the Furies, who chase Orestes after he murders his mother Clytemnestra and her lover Aghistos.

The voluntary sacrifice of Cassandra is not dissimilar to the sacrifice of Christ, as both accept their fate imposed by a God, and the Furies coexist in Bacon’s first triptych, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944). The three figures at the base of an invisible cross are not mourners, but the Eumenides, avenging the sacrifice of Christ. This idea of sacrifice was possibly influenced by Bacon’s reading of John Frazer’s The Golden Bough. He owned at least the two volumes of the abridged edition 7 , and John Rothenstein recalled seeing it in Bacon’s apartment in the 1960s. 8 In his book, James Frazer argued that the periodical killing of the divine king was a quality found in many archaic religions and was also present in Christianity through the crucifixion of God’s son. His reference to Christianity was present in the first edition of the book and caused uproar among the readers, so it was reduced to an annex in the third edition and eventually removed from a further abridged edition.

The figures in Bacon’s first triptych are fairly ambiguous; they simultaneously represent the passive suffering of the victims, screaming in pain and blindfolded, and the fury of the avengers. The Furies under the cross are represented as eyeless, semi-human, semi-animal hybrids. In later works he developed an iconographical model of Furies, based on photographs of birds, as winged creatures, just like the crucified figure in the 1950 painting, Fragment of a Crucifixion, his only work of this subject executed on a single canvas. The painting in question represents an owl-like screaming figure, probably inspired by the photographs of Eric Hosking, being attacked by an animal.

The two Crucifixions triptychs painted in the 1960s present a much more complex composition and metaphorical references. The panels of the 1962 Crucifixions depict a slaughtered semi-human figure displayed on a bed and observed by other figures. In the 1965 Crucifixion the sacrifice is set once again in a slaughterhouse. The crucified figure in the central panel is represented as an eviscerated carcass, surrounded by two panels, one representing a scene of sexual violence and the other a bent male figure with a swastika band on his arm. After 1965, Bacon abandoned the religious subjects, with the exception of the Second Version of Triptych 1944 (1988). In later works the motif of the crucifixion was replaced by triptychs depicting agonizing or wounded figures, often observed by other characters that can be interpreted as either spectators or executioners that inflict pain

In an essay published in 1977 9 , Michel Leiris, art critic, poet and one of Bacon’s closest friends, compared the composition of the 1976 Triptych to Bacon’s Crucifixions of the 1960s, where the crucified body is depicted as a slaughtered animal hanging in a butcher’s shop. Leiris’ own writings, alongside with Oresteia, were a major source of inspiration for the Triptych.

In a letter dating from April 1976 Bacon discussed the role of his readings in his creative process:

Il y’a long temps j’ai voulu écrire pour vous remercier non seulement pour le cadeau de votre livre mais pour avoir écrit cet magnifique livre Frêle Bruit pour une raison que je ne peux pas analyser il me touche même plus profondément que les trois superbe volumes de la Règle du jeu. Maintenant je travaille sur un très grand tryptich sur laquelle les accidents était fondé sur L’Oresteia d’Aeschylus et le Heart of Darkness 10 de Conrad, et maintenant que je travaille je trouve que Frêle Bruit être aussi tout le temps alors que ne je sais pas quel accident va arriver. 11

The book mentioned in the letter, Frêle Bruit, is the final part of Leiris’ autobiographic tetralogy Règle du Jeu, of which only the third part, Fibrilles, is now in the Hugh Lane collections. The book is composed by poems, personal musings on the act of autobiographical writing, the author’s views on language, culture and literature. In one of the chapters Leiris discusses the fate of Orestes, prey of the Furies in Racine’s Andromache 12 :

En se tachant de sang, Oreste demeure innocent doublement: son geste est bévue, qui dresse contre lui celle qu’il pensait satisfaire par la mise à mort d’un roi, et- trop béjaune encore pour être en tueur sans remords — il devient la proie des Furies. 13

Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, the other literary source of the Triptych, is also partly autobiographic, whose plot is based on the author’s experience as captain of a steamer on the Congo River, and the protagonists are modelled after real characters that ruled the Belgian colony at the end of the 19th century. The two isolated figures from the lateral panels of the triptych could be read as Bacon’s impression of the protagonist Kurtz, an ivory trader turned into violent dictator, living as a demigod in the Congo jungle among the natives. The faces in the two panels were inspired by a photograph of Peter Beard, Bacon’s friend and model, after his release from the Kenyan prison 14 , merged with the distorted photograph of Austen Chamberlain.

The butchered body in the central panel, surrounded by three bird-like creatures, representing Eumenides, belongs to Agamemnon, murdered by Clytemnestra and Aghistos. Agamemnon was killed with three blows of an axe, the same way the animals were sacrificed to gods. His death avenged the sacrifice of his daughter Iphigenia, and that of the brothers of Aghistos who were murdered by Agamemnon’s father Atreus, then cooked and served to their father Thyestes. A small, distorted figure in a pool of blood in the right panel may represent a sacrificed child. Bacon depicts the central headless body as a carcass; the bowl in which his blood was recollected suggests that his death was no different from that of an animal. Bacon’s literary references often contain an element of shock and extreme brutality; as he once admitted, Macbeth, Oresteia and Second Coming were more suggestive and violent than explicit photographs of war atrocities that littered the floor of his studio. 15

The central figure of the sacrificed king reappears in similar form in the 1981 Triptych. The winged figure in the left panel this time does not represent a Fury. According to a note found in Bacon’s studio this figure depicts Sybil at Cumae, hanging in a cage like a sloth. This note leads us to another literary source that marks Bacon’s painting: T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland. It is nearly an ekphrastic transcription of the epigraph to the poem, extracted from Satyricon by Petronius:

I saw with my own eyes the Sybil at Cumae hanging in a cage, and when the boy said to her “Sybil, what do you want?”, she answers “ I want to die.” 16

Another text, which affected Bacon’s art substantially, was a short essay on bullfighting: Miroir de la Tauromachie, written by Leiris in 1937. According to the correspondence between Leiris and Bacon, the latter was presented with the book in 1966 17 , and received another copy in 1969. 18

Bacon shared Leiris’ interest in bullfights; he saw corridas during his visits to Spain and Southern France, and collected books and illustrations of bullfighting and toreros. Shorty after receiving the first copy of the essay, he started painting scenes inspired by the corrida. Many of these works display a similar compositional concept: a circular space, inspired by a bullfighting ring, and rectangular mirrors that extend the realm of the painting, reflecting actions and figures located outside the canvas.

The first of these paintings was Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne Standing in a Street in Soho (1967). Bacon transformed the London street into a bullfighting ring. A large mirror reflects a wounded bull and Isabel is represented standing alone in the centre of the arena, like a matador. The two Studies for a Bullfight painted in 1969 reveal a similar composition. In the first of the Studies for a Bullfight the mirror casts back a scene that can be read as Bacon’s musing on the obscure and violent side of human psyche, and a dark moment in 20th-century history. The reflection shows a crowd holding an NSDAP pennant, crowned with a parteiadler—an eagle sitting on a swastika.

The presence of the audience suggests a ritual character of the slaughter, a “mise-en-scène of some sort in the presence of third parties acting as voyeurs and fulfilling the function of a public.” 19 The swirling movement of the bull and the matador in the centre of the arena, suggested by black lines and splatters of white paint, were very likely prompted by his reading of Leiris’ text, where it’s described as the movement that allows the torero to escape death on the ring: “The distortion (the evil) is the bull, who puts the life of the man in material danger and is the immediate-palpable eruption of this threat.”

In this essay, Leiris establishes a parallelism between the corrida and Greek tragedy, since the bullfight is “not so much a sport as a tragic art, wherein harmonious Apollonian forms get twisted by the arousal of Dionysian forces.” It is not accidental that this dichotomy brings to mind Nietzsche’s ideas presented in the Birth of Tragedy. In fact, Leiris believed that everything Nietzsche had said about music could be applied to bullfighting. The torero, with his coded physique and technique, represents the harmony, while the bull is the evil force, which puts man’s life in danger. The torero represents Apollonian harmony and order, while the bull embodies chaos and animalistic Dionysian force. The final sacrifice of the bull, and sometimes of the horses and of the torero, reestablishes the order through a cathartic experience. 20

The reference to Greek tragedy and bullfighting persists in the 1987 Triptych, where the allusions to Miroir de la Tauromachie coexist with ekphrastic quotes from the poetry of Federico García Lorca, in particular, Llanto por Ignacio Sánchez Mejías. The elegy is composed by four poems dedicated to Lorca’s bullfighter friend who died from gangrene after being gored by a bull. Bacon owned several anthologies of poems of Lorca, at least two of which were bilingual editions and he attempted to read in the original.

The composition of the 1987 Triptych contains elements that link it to Miroir de la Tauromachie, such as the circular space and mirrors, but the figures casted in the mirrors are clearly inspired by the first poem of Lorca’s elegy, La cogida y la muerte (Goring and Death). Two panels represent a Michelangelesque male nude with a dark wound on his thigh; the third panel shows an injured bull. The swooping bird in the right panel is a reference to Eumenides, avenging the death of the matador.

The left panel of the triptych represents a wounded nude reflected in a mirror, set in a circular space. The bloodstains on the ground are very likely another ekphrastic quote from Lorca, referring to the second poem of the elegy, La sangre derramada (Spilt Blood). However, the blood-stained ground may as well allude to a scene from the Eumenides, in which the Furies trail Orestes following the reek of blood of his victims. After seizing the murderer they discover that rivulets of blood had formed around him.

The succession of murders in Oresteia, the crucifixions and the bullfights respond to the same idea of ritual sacrifice and extreme violence present in Bacon’s painting since 1944 when he painted the Furies at the base of a cross. Nietzsche in The Birth of Greek Tragedy hypothesizes on how the ancient Greeks faced the problem of suffering and evil. Nietzsche found that life under the constant threat of war and the memory of its atrocities would have been impossible to endure. The Greek spectators of the Oresteia, while contemplating extreme human suffering, affirmed the meaning of their own existence. Bacon’s violent imagery of human and animal sacrifice, which often was interpreted as his reflexion on the horrors of war and the history of the 20th century, could be read as the contrary—as an affirmation of life and the sense of human existence.



1 For more information on the Bacon’s Books Project, Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin.

2 W. B. Stanford, Aeschylus in His Style: A Study in Language and Personality (Dublin: University Press, 1942).

3 Aeschylus, Oresteia, trans. Gilbert Murray (London: Allen and Unwin, 1946).

4 Aeschylus, The Oresteia: Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, The Eumenides, trans. Robert Fagles (London: Penguin Books, 1979).

5 Aeschylus, Oresteia, in The Complete Greek Tragedies, Volume I: Aeschylus, trans. David Lattimore and Richmond Grene (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960).

6 Aeschylus, The Oresteia Trilogy: Agamemnon, the Choephori, the Eumenides, trans. Philip Vellacott (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1982).

7 Sir James George Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion. Abridged Edition, vol. I (1960-reference nº BB18.20) and II (1961-BB21.06) (London: Macmillan).

8 John Rothenstein, Francis Bacon 24 May-1 July 1962 (London: The Tate Gallery, 1962).

9 Michel Leiris, Francis Bacon: Peintures Récentes (Paris: Galerie Claude Bernard, 1977).

10 Bacon probably was reading the 1976 Penguin edition of the book, found in his library (BB18.12).

11 “For a long time I have wanted to write to thank you, not just for the gift of your book, but also for having written the magnificent book Frêle Bruit. For some reason, which I cannot define, it touches me even more profoundly than the three superb volumes of la Règle du jeu. I am currently working on quite large triptych in which the accidents were based on the Oresteia of Aeschylus and Heart of Darkness by Conrad, and now that I am at work I find that Frêle Bruit is with me all the time. So I don’t know what accident will occur.” (April 3, 1976) Bibliothèque Jacques Doucet: Ms 43099.

12 Bacon admired Racine and owned French and English editions of his adaptations of Greek tragedies: Iphigenia, Phaedra, Athaliah (Penguin, 1981); Andromache and Other Plays (Penguin, 1982); Oeuvres Complètes de Racine (Gallimard, 1951).

 13 Michel Leiris, Frêle Bruit (Paris: Gallimard, 1976), 217.

14 Margarita Cappock, Francis Bacon’s Studio (London: Merrell, 2005), 59.

15 Franck Maubert, L’Odeur du sang humain ne me quitte pas des yeux: Conversations avec Francis Bacon, (Paris: Fayard/ Mille et Une Nuits, 2009).

16 “Nam Sibyllam quidem Cumis ego ipse oculis meis vidi in ampulla pendere, et cum illi pueri dicerent: Σιβυλλα τι θελεις; respondebat illa: αποθανειν θελω.”

17 MS43080, January 25, 1966.

18 MS40387, October 7, 1969.

19 Michel Leiris, The Bullfight as Mirror, trans. Ann Smock, October 63 (Winter 1993), l60.

20 Leiris, The Bullfight, 28





                                                                                                         Francis Bacon, Studies for a Bullfight No.1 1968





  Artists of the Colony Room Club 

The Dark Art of Soho



Kensington, Chelsea & Westminster Today, 16th September 2016


Hooray! No need to travel to Chichester if you never seem to make it, Bonhams is putting on a terrific show from the magnificent Pallant House Galleries in its Bond St galleries during Freize week. This is a very special collection from an important time of 20thCentury British art. Post War it was when so much about art was being revaluated, stretched and reinvented; most of this occurred through conversation and those conversations between this group of Artists happened at their adopted club, and hangout The Colony Room Club, in Dean Street Soho. Starting in 1948, it continued for 60years,

Post-war Soho was a very different place, it had the taste of danger and the smell of sex around every street corner. It was a howling screech  away from the smart, clean and comfortable tourist centre it has evolved into, full of media members clubs. The Colony run by the out spoken, witty and barbed tongue owner Muriel Belcher and her barman Ian Board drew in first of all Francis Bacon, who was paid in 1949 £10 a week to bring in rich and influential customers (this just about covered his bar bill), but as a charismatic and leading artist of the day he also attracted his fellow artists amongst them Lucien Freud,  Frank Auerbach, John Minton,  John Craxton, The two Roberts Colquon and MacBryde, Richard Hamilton, Peter Blake, RB Kitaj shown in this show, reflects a certain time but the Colony went on until 2008 and became the breeding ground for so much more, including the YBA movement of the 1990’s.

The Colony Room wasn’t singularly an artists club otherwise how could it survive? Somebody has to buy the drinks! What made it so special was the rare mix of intellectual, lords, ladies, musicians and poets and somebody to conduct and orchestrate a room full of people against the moral conventions of the day; Muriel Belcher. Francis Bacon summed it up as,’ “an oasis where the inhibitions of sex and class are dissolved… and you can be yourself”   And who doesn’t want to be that?

Sophie Parkin is the author of The Colony Room Club 1948-2008 – A history of Bohemian Soho pub by Palmtree Publishers £35. 277pgs.  ISBN 978-0-9574354-1-4.

The exhibition will be in the main saleroom of Bonhams, 101 New Bond Street, London W1, from Sunday 2 October to Tuesday 11 October. Opening hours are 9.30am – 4.30pm. Closed on Saturdays and Sunday 9 October. Admission free.










Life as meat




Post–World War II London artists dabbled with expiration date





In the years following World War II, the biggest art conversation was about abstraction and what to do with it. The critical center was New York and the artists in question were Pollock, Rothko, de Kooning, Gorky, and Kline. At the same time, several painters in England (though not all British-born) were complicating the idiom of representational painting. Each side had things to say about the other. Francis Bacon, the most articulate of the British artists, called Abstract Expressionism “decoration.” Harold Rosenberg, one of Abstraction’s house critics, called Bacon’s work “too figurative, too narrative, too concerned with Christian imagery yet dangerously unpious in its view of religion.” Barnett Newman said (approvingly) that Abstract Expressionists were “freeing [themselves] of the impediments of memory, association, nostalgia, legend, myth.” Bacon and five other figurative artists working in and around the ruins of postwar London were cultivating those “impediments,” and a sampling of their work is on view in London Calling, currently at the Getty Center.

These artists ate and drank together; they argued about and observed one another’s work; Bacon and Freud gambled together in casinos. I first saw Francis Bacon’s pictures in 1972, during the opening credits of Last Tango in Paris. I was a 27-year-old poet with no thought of ever writing about painting, but seeing those illustrations stirred a desire to say something, sooner or later, about Bacon’s work. (I’m slow: I didn’t get around to it until the 1990s.) The Tango images — a woman slouched in a chair, a figure sagging on a divan — were expressions of emotional disfigurement, solitariness, and tense anticipation kneaded into mercurial shapes, appropriate icons for Tango’s drama of carnal appetite and existential strain.

Dublin-born (in 1909) of British parents, Bacon was the oldest of what one of the six, R.I. Kitaj, termed the “London School,” and his palette of incited yellows, billiard-table greens, flamingo pinks, indigos, and reds gave a posh, privileged look to his vision of human animalism, of life as meat with an expiration date. The gamble of accident was part of his process. Artists before him had invited randomness into their interaction with the canvas, but Bacon’s interventions were more purposeful. He required instability. As a picture came into a structure, he’d destabilize it, pull it out of an achieved form, sometimes by swiping a rag across the canvas. It was an aggressive kind of painting-against-itself. His portraits of acquaintances and lovers, usually photograph-based, featured smeared skulls, enfolded faces, and elastic bodies composed of glistening planes that shed a protoplasmic “skin,” a kind of shadow incarnate.

Bacon left home at 17, travelled, worked as a furniture and interior designer, and by the early 1930s, virtually self-taught, was making paintings on profane and messily sacred subjects. His work responded as much to the containments of space as to human mood and expressiveness. Within the pictures he created staging areas, boxy structures or display platforms that look like laboratory containers or jewelry displays. The settings expose more than they enclose. The figures’ mouths sometimes remodel the mouth of a screaming woman in Eisenstein’s film Battleship Potemkin. In the 1954 Figure with Meat, her mouth appears on a figure derived from Velázquez’s 1650 Portrait of Pope Innocent X: the blue-robed pontiff shares a caged space with split halves of a beef carcass, meat-and-blood wings that obliterate any sense of the transcendent.

Other of Bacon’s photographic models were the stop-action motion studies Eadweard Muybridge made of wrestlers, acrobats, and ordinary people walking, jumping, and climbing steps. Bacon subverted photography’s stillness by working colour to make it look a little runny and decomposing. In the central panel of Triptych August 1972 two males muscle around each other like wrestlers or lovers. On the left panel is a seated George Dyer, Bacon’s model and lover who had recently killed himself, and on the right, the artist. Seeping from the figures is that familiar flayed-skin human spoor, a puddling pinkish flesh tone that looks like a spill of selfhood.

Bacon met Lucian Freud in the 1940s. Freud’s ambition was the pursuit of fleshly countenance. In an early work like Girl with a Kitten from 1947, the girl’s skin has a bruised pearliness, a tone Freud would work many variations on in his career, and her lost gaze directs her consciousness way beyond the picture. (She’s holding the kitten by the neck, like a trophy.) Freud experimented with consistency of surface and the elasticity of interior space. The surface of Girl with a Kitten is smooth, chaste, indifferent. The placid flesh from the 1950s pictures gradually gets eroded and corrupted by time; the fineness of finish breaks down into flaky cellular bits and knobs as Freud inquires more and more into the contemplative weathered-ness of the human form. The later work has coarser, broken consistencies, and his nudes look as if they’ve just now dropped or been pushed awkwardly onto beds. The skin in Freud’s work is a blast of carnal presence. He painted the life of time in the body, the decrepitude, the fat, the little and great collapses, just as in the early work he showed a lovely, though tough, youthfulness of presence.

One of Freud’s students at the Slade School of Fine Art was Michael Andrews, born in 1928 and, dead at age 67, the shortest lived of the six artists in London Calling. Of them, he was the most social; his paintings observe human consciousness registering its awareness of others and its surroundings. One of his best known pictures, A Man Who Suddenly Fell Over, doesn’t illustrate the act of falling so much as it reveals two states of mind in that moment. A portly businessman, trying feebly to break the fall with his shoulder, is suspended in a state of worried amusement that there’s nowhere for him to go but down, while the woman observing the event registers a shocked queasiness. Andrews liked parties and liked making pictures based on them. In the busy drinking-club crowd in Colony Room I (not included in the exhibition), his friends Bacon and Freud mix it up with journalists, arts people, and hangers-on. In his landscapes, Andrews aspirates the surfaces and breaks them down into a beautifully expressive unevenness. In a swirling grayish 1994 painting of the Thames Estuary, globs and chunks of clotted ash and dirt are mixed with the paint to create a pensive, elegiac moment in the mind: the churned textures of land and water become a platform for fishermen revealed high in the scene like presiding spirits. The entire picture feels like a modernist dream of 19th-century representation.





           Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne, by Francis Bacon (1966), oil on canvas





Der doppelte Bacon




Christoph Vitali, Direktor vom Haus der Kunst in München, schreibt über den englischen

Maler Francis Bacon und über ein Buch, das in eindringlicher Weise den Mythos vom

ausschließlich tragisch, ja apokalyptisch fixierten Bacon zerstört.





Die nochmalige Lektüre von Michael Peppiatts großer Francis-Bacon-Biografie war für mich auch das Eintauchen in ein Stück Vergangenheit. Im Jahre 1996 hatten wir vom Musee National d’Art Moderne in Paris die große Retrospektive des nur wenige Jahre zuvor gestorbenen Malers nach München geholt. Ich hatte sie zusammen mit David Sylvester, einem Freund und Weggefährten des Künstlers, im Haus der Kunst gehängt - eine Einrichtung, die mir unvergesslich bleibt: zentrierend um die sechs großen Triptychen im Hauptsaal, die Bacon zum Ende der sechziger und zu Beginn der siebziger Jahre malte und deren Gegenstand stets das Bild seines Freundes George Dyer war.

Dyer hatte sich am Vorabend der großen Ausstellung im Grand Palais in Paris im Herbst 1971, der Krönung des Werkes von Bacon überhaupt, umgebracht. Unsere Münchner Schau wurde zu einer Inszenierung, wie sie prachtvoller, aber auch furchterregend-abweisender kaum je gelungen war. Für Münchens bildverliebtes Publikum ein harter, schwer zu verdauender Brocken. Zur Eröffnung brachte Michael Peppiatt, auch er mit Bacon dreißig Jahre lang befreundet, die englische Originalausgabe seines eben erschienenen Buchs über den Maler mit.

Bacon führte ein Doppelleben

Was kann uns die kluge Biografie heute sagen? Sie zerstört in eindringlicher Weise den Mythos vom ausschließlich tragisch, ja apokalyptisch fixierten Künstler. Sie zeigt uns statt dessen über viele Seiten den in die Welt verliebten, sein Leben in vollen Zügen genießenden Francis Bacon, der, als ein brillanter Causeur von Kneipe zu Bar zu Nachtclub in Londons Soho ziehend, eine große Anzahl von Bewunderern an sich fesselte. Danach allerdings, wenn er spät nachts als eleganter Dandy in sein bescheidenes Atelier zurückkehrte und zum Pinsel griff, verwandelte sich der Lebemann und protokollierte Zwänge in großen einsamen Bildern. Diese Doppelexistenz des Künstlers macht Peppiatts Buch in unnachahmlicher Weise deutlich.

Es ist in der kunsthistorischen Analyse so nüchtern und präzise, als ginge es um das Werk eines völlig Fremden. Gleichzeitig, und darin liegt seine große Kraft, ist es das eindrückliche Zeugnis eines sympathisierenden Beobachters voller Zuneigung. So liest sich die Biografie über weite Strecken wie ein fesselnder Roman, und es ist ihr eine gute Aufnahme bei den vielen Bacon-Freunden in Deutschland von ganzem Herzen zu wünschen.

Der Artikel erschien zuerst in art - das Kunstmagazin, Ausgabe 12, 2000









Francis Bacon: Invisible Rooms



Brutal and Brilliant





Francis Bacon has come to Liverpool, in a major new retrospective focusing on the shape and structure of his art. As is my wont in galleries, I wander for a while and then choose one piece on which to focus my attention.

Study for a Portrait (1952) (right), which has also been known as Businessman or Man’s Head, is painted predominantly in dark blues and black. It shows the upper body of a man in a jacket and tie, mouth wide open, spectacles dislodged, and right eye smeared, with a curtain rail in the background. I am drawn first to the whites — of the shirt and the teeth. Then I notice the cage-like structure enclosing his head and neck. Is he screaming? Is he shouting for help? Is he gasping for breath, suffocating within an invisible, impermeable layer?

I find this profoundly unsettling. Ideas and images vibrate and multiply around my brain. The distorted screaming face is a recurring motif in Bacon’s middle period. In the exhibition it’s also in the neighbouring paintings of Study After Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1953) and Study for the Nurse in the Film ‘Battleship Potemkin’ (1957). Like Munch’s The Scream, it leads us towards big themes: of anguish beneath the veneer of success and civilisation, of isolated souls imprisoned and tormented by existential dilemmas, ‘enclosed in the wretched glass capsule of the human individual’.1

But I can’t escape into the distancing realms of philosophy. The painting draws me back into the real world. Is this what it feels like to have an asthma attack? Bacon suffered severely from asthma as a child, so he would know. Or is the cage the claustrophobic closet of a gay man in England in the days before sexual liberalisation? And then, nearer to home, the curtain looks suspiciously like the one round the examination couch in my consulting room. Might this even be a portrait of me, overcome by the distress and suffering of my patients, to the point where boundaries between self and other start to disappear?

I look for relief elsewhere in the exhibition, but it’s hard to find. Gargoyles grimace under crucifixes, a distorted child crawls around a ring, enmeshed and blood-spattered bodies are observed through a window by a man with a phone, a sand dune (left) that might have human form oozes out of its enclosure.

Eventually I do find laughter, in Study of the Human Body (1982): a headless and chestless naked man is protected from the evils of the world — by a pair of cricket pads.

Bacon is brutal, bothersome, and bloody brilliant.



1. Nietzsche F. The Birth of Tragedy: out of the Spirit of Music. London: Penguin Classics; 1993. [first published in 1872].

Francis Bacon: Invisible Rooms. Tate Liverpool 18 May 2016–18 September 2016 




        Francis Bacon, Sand Dune (1983). Oil paint and pastel on canvas. 1980 × 1475 mm. Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel






Francis Bacon, une sorte de génie absolu si plaisant



Monaco propose un parcours autour des œuvres de l’artiste britannique, dont une partie a été réalisée

dans cette principauté où il a vécu un temps et qu’il n’a jamais totalement quittée. Alcool, jeu et peinture.

Il impose une forme d’honnêteté artistique si rare aujourd’hui







                                     Francis Bacon, Fragment of a Crucifixion, 1950



Principauté de Monaco, envoyé spécial.

Il faut reconnaître à la principauté de Monaco son engagement pour les arts. Loin de tout point de vue et autres images du monde, il existe une vie culturelle en dehors du célèbre casino de Monte-Carlo. C’est pourtant un lieu assez ­palpitant, il faut le dire même dans l’Humanité, qui plaisait à Francis Bacon. Le peintre britannique, amoureux comme on le sait de la culture française, venu à la peinture grâce à Picasso, s’est installé là, entre France et Italie, un beau jour de 1946. Pour trois ans. Trois années prolifiques. Alcool, jeu et peinture. Cocktail détonant. Un triptyque infernal qui n’aura jamais vraiment quitté l’artiste.

L’amant toujours là, l’aplat qui s’offre au relief du couteau

Monaco, donc, qui a décidé de rendre hommage à Bacon par un drôle d’intitulé: « Francis Bacon. Monaco et la culture française ». C’est au Grimaldi Forum. Un espace. C’est bien ce qu’il faut pour un Bacon qui n’a eu de cesse d’interroger les figures, de s’emparer de l’être pour le décortiquer comme le ferait un médecin légiste avant de recomposer le tout dans un esprit moins ludique que grave et parfois graveleux. N’est-ce pas ce qu’exprime cette photo signée John Deakin, saisie en 1952 à Londres, qui ouvre l’exposition? Les bras levés, Bacon tient dans chaque main les deux parties d’un animal fraîchement coupé. La chair et les côtes ainsi brandies semblent les ailes de cet ange démoniaque qu’est l’artiste torse nu, avec cette gueule qui est la sienne. Qu’on croit déceler dans chacune de ses toiles. Belle entrée en matière et un étrange pied de nez à ses portraits de papes – si fameux – dont il a commencé l’exploration dans une principauté tellement liée à l’histoire d’un moine.

L’espace Grimaldi n’est pas un musée. Pas non plus une fondation. C’est un lieu qui s’agence comme on veut présenter des œuvres. C’est aéré au sens spatial du terme. Les œuvres sont là. Elles s’offrent à vous, seules, ou visibles en un groupement qui marquent des unités. Recherche réelle, ou bien le plasticien trouve-t-il dans le geste cet obscur objet du désir? L’amant toujours là, le mouvement qui fait la vie, l’aplat qui s’offre au relief du couteau. Chez Bacon la couleur n’est pas là pour être chatoyante, mais pour exprimer la pensée, le sentiment, le désarroi. L’emportement certainement. La colère aussi. On sent des flèches, des morsures. C’est ce qui bouleverse. Cette façon d’imposer tout à la fois sa certitude et son incertitude. Son amour et son dégoût. C’est cette forme d’honnêteté artistique qu’impose Francis Bacon.

Alors, la France et Monaco dans tout ça, puisque c’est le thème de l’exposition? Peu importe après tout. Oui, peut-être faut-il rappeler qu’il a cherché et trouvé en France ce qu’une certaine Angleterre ne lui permettait pas. A-t-il perçu dans le rocher monégasque, la proximité de la mer, la haute rocaille qu’on a toujours dans le dos, le décor absolu qui se pare des atours du fric, de la dépravation, du luxe insolent et du factice? Il y a dans ce parcours monégasque une sorte de génie absolu si plaisant. Si simple et si dérangeant à la fois, qu’on se retrouve à regarder Bacon d’un autre œil. Déstabilisé, mais bien. Il ne s’agit pas tant de se retrouver embringué dans une sorte d’histoire de l’art, de revisitation de la représentation que d’être immergé dans un monde qui se suffit à lui-même et est en même temps universel.

L’artiste ose, en se mettant à nu, dépouiller le regardant

C’est évidemment à cette aune que l’on peut reconnaître un grand artiste. Celui qui aide à soulever les strates de l’esprit. Celui qui ose, en se mettant à nu, dépouiller le regardant. Lui faire les poches, en quelque sorte. De manière telle qu’en sortant on se demande si ce n’est pas soi-même que brandit le Bacon du départ. Celui de la photo qui brandit de la bidoche. Comme pour nous dire, avec un rien de mépris, que nous ne valons pas mieux. Que la ­déconstruction est la meilleure des constructions. Que l’angle droit ne vaut rien sans la distorsion. Ses ateliers, à Londres comme à Paris, n’étaient rien d’autre qu’un fatras de papiers, de cartons, de restes de ses gestes. Et que, de toute manière, à Monaco ou ailleurs, rien ne vaut la sincérité. Il faut le voir ainsi.





I maestri del ’900: Francis Bacon alla mostra


"Dall’Opera al libro, dal libro all’Opera"



La litografia Oedipus and the Sphinx after Ingres rimarrà

esposta a Palazzo Corvaja fino al 16 ottobre



di Redazione | Taormina Today | Tuesday, 16 August, 2016 




                                          Il pittore irlandese Francis Bacon (Dublino, 28 ottobre 1909 – Madrid, 28 aprile 1992)



Una visione contemporanea del mito di Edipo. Francis Bacon in Oedipus and the Sphinx after Ingres crea un ponte artistico tra il mito dell’antichità e la guerra. Nato nel 1909 a Dublino ha vissuto in prima persona il dramma delle guerre mondiali. Paura, odio, violenza vengono riversate nell’opera. Edipo è ferito, non è più l’incarnazione dell’intelligenza umana rappresentata da Ingres. Nella versione di Bacon la Sfinge ed Edipo occupano entrambi i lati della litografia lasciando il centro vuoto. Sullo sfondo, in posizione centrale, quasi a dominare l’intero quadro una figura indistinguibile, una creatura alata raffigurante una Erinni che personifica la maledizione lanciata sulla terra. Per Ingres, questa scena è solo un pretesto per la rappresentazione del corpo maschile ideale, mentre con Bacon si è di fronte con una reinterpretazione del mito che ha lo scopo di far riflettere sulla mostruosità dell’uomo del dopoguerra. Ingres raffigura un passato perfetto, mentre Bacon si confronta con un presente imperfetto dominato dalla violenza.

La litografia Oedipus and the Sphinx after Ingres fa parte della collezione privata di Enzo Gribaudo esposta a Palazzo Corvaja fino al prossimo 16 ottobre. Francis Bacon dedicò questa litografia all’editore Ezio Gribaudo in occasione della pubblicazione della propria monografia Fabbri. Il testo incluso nel volume, scritto da Lorenza Trucchi, fu giudicato dall’artista irlandese il migliore mai scritto sul proprio lavoro. La mostra dal titolo “Dall’Opera al Libro, dal Libro all’Opera. Ezio Gribaudo e i maestri del Novecento” prende il nome dal prezioso catalogo (curato da Paola Gribaudo, figlia del maestro e sua fidata collaboratrice sin da giovanissima) nel quale non soltanto è documentata l’esposizione ma è anche offerta un particolare focus di lettura sull’editoria d’arte attraverso la loro storia familiare. Una storia e una tradizione fatta di prestigiose collaborazioni e amicizie con i grandi maestri e le maggiori personalità artistiche del Novecento, da Picasso a De Chirico, passando per numerosi altri nomi illustri.




La testimonianza di Ezio Gribaudo. Oedipus and the Sphinx after Ingres fa parte della collezione privata di Enzo Gribaudo esposta a Palazzo Corvaja fono al prossimo 16 ottobre



«Nella lista di artisti, stilata a suo tempo dalla Fabbri, ai quali dedicare una monografia, il nome di Bacon era uno dei primi, almeno in ambito europeo – spiega Ezio Gribaudo – per me sicuramente quello al quale avrei voluto dedicare un’opera a strettissimo giro. In quel momento la triade dei grandi inglesi era costituita da Moore, Sutherland e Bacon. L’anno precedente era uscito Sutherland, poco prima Moore e ora mi sembrava il momento per Bacon. Decidemmo così di iniziare. Presi un appuntamento con Valerie Beston, che avevo già conosciuto in occasione della monografia su Henry Moore. La incontrai alla galleria Marlborough di Londra – racconta Gribaudo – e mi procurò un appuntamento con Bacon. Avere un incontro con lui non era facile, era un personaggio un po’ irraggiungibile; in quel periodo dipingeva degli straordinari grandi trittici. Bacon organizzò una cena da Willer, un pub famoso per il pesce. Fu un incontro bellissimo durante il quale decidemmo il taglio da conferire al libro. Parlammo di molte cose, di Torino dove aveva avuto dei rapporti con la galleria Galatea. Il mattino successivo andai nel suo mitico atelier e mi dedicò una bellissima fotografia scattata da Cartier Bresson. In quel periodo abitava anche a Parigi, in rue de Birague, vicino a Place des Vosges; divideva il suo tempo fra Londra e Parigi, a lui piaceva molto il mondo parigino. Proposi a Bacon – continua Ezio Gribaudo -di far scrivere il testo da Lorenza Trucchi e credo che il testo della monografia sia il suo capolavoro. Difatti quando fu tradotto Bacon lo ritenne il miglior scritto dedicatogli fino ad allora. Stampammo velocemente e, nel marzo del 1975, riuscimmo a presentare il libro alla vernice della grande mostra che il Metropolitan Museum di New York aveva allestito su Bacon. Prima d’allora però lui presenziò ad una mia personale alla Marlborough Graphics di Londra, diretta da Barbara Lloyd. Nel libro d’oro Bacon scrisse parole molto lusinghiere. Bacon era talmente entusiasta del libro che scendendo le scale del Metropolitan mi disse: “Vieni a Londra perché voglio farti un ritratto, di quelli piccoli”. Gli dissi che sarei andato, ma preso da mille cose, stupidamente non trovai il tempo. Voleva che posassi per lui a Londra! Un rimpianto che mi porterò dietro tutta la vita. Comunque lo rividi ancora, in occasioni ufficiali e non, più a Parigi che a Londra, ed elaborammo inoltre un aggiornamento della monografia».

Dall’Opera al libro, dal libro all’Opera. 

Il libro è il veicolo più diffuso del sapere. Ma non è solo uno strumento: le copertine possono, in alcuni casi, essere delle vere e proprie opere d’arte. La mostra allestita a Palazzo Corvaja trae spunto dai grandi nomi di spicco del contesto culturale e artistico del Novecento in stretto rapporto con Ezio Gribaudo e che si pone come un trait d’union tra testo e arti figurative, tra il libro e la copertina. La veste editoriale di un libro può, infatti, divenire arte, valore aggiunto al suo contenuto. Dai capolavori di Guttuso a quelli di Mirò, l’esposizione mette in risalto il valore del libro come oggetto d’arte. L’arte incontra quindi la letteratura. “Dall’Opera al libro, dal libro all’Opera” è, infatti, il frutto della collaborazione tra Taobuk (Taormina International Book Festival) e Artelibro Festival del Libro d’Arte.

Francis Bacon. 

Classe 1909, omosessuale dalla personalità complessa. Pioniere della cosiddetta Nuova Figurazione inglese esplosa in seno ad una interpretazione più esistenziale del surrealismo, con l’ambizione di indagare artisticamente la vera essenza dell’uomo contemporaneo, dilaniato dalla seconda guerra mondiale ma soprattutto bloccato dal dopoguerra. Il suo mondo artistico è animato da soggetti esasperati, quasi a volerne indicare un progressivo processo di crollo spirituale.  Un diario delirante e visionario, quello dei racconti per immagini di Francis Bacon, che dipingeva sempre sulla base di esperienze personali e intime. C’è il debutto degli anni Trenta che già rivelava un interesse per l’ambiguità della trama figurativa, che si perpetua nei lavori degli anni Quaranta, la sua ufficializzazione di artista, al fianco di Henry Moore e Graham Sutherland. Nelle sue opere degli anni Cinquanta Bacon che si accanisce sulla figura, con forza ed originalità punta ad esaltare il volto umano. Lo dimostrano i suoi Studi, le serie delle Teste, gli Uomini in blu, incorporei e spettrali, dai volti argentei e sfocati, fino alle rivisitazioni del Ritratto di papa Innocenzo X da un’opera di Velázquez. Opere che fanno ormai di Bacon il maestro indiscusso della “defigurazione”. Negli anni ’60 i suoi personaggi prendono luce e spazio, come i ritratti di cari amici o dell’amato George Dyer. Fino all’apoteosi dell’interiorità umana coi Trittici degli anni ’70.






Inside the Artistic Rivalry 0f Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud




A close look at the conflict and competition that drove these legendary British painters.






When the artists Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon first met in the 1950s, Freud was little known beyond a small circle of supporters while Bacon was a rising star in Britain’s art world. Their fraught friendship, which spurred major creative breakthroughs and coincided with upheavals in both men’s love lives, was a source of inspiration, exasperation, and later, regret. As Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic Sebastian Smee writes in his new book The Art of Rivalry: Four Friendships, Betrayals, and Breakthroughs in Modern Art, it was "the most interesting, fertile—and volatile—relationship in British art of the twentieth century."

Here, an excerpt from the book details the dysfunctional—and legendary—friendship of these two great artists.

Influence is erotic. Lucian Freud was young, and he was surely susceptible—ready to be seduced. And yet, even as he admitted Francis Bacon’s example, he now found himself caught up in a struggle to hold true to his own course. He became increasingly aware of what distinguished them, of the differences between them—in temperament, talent, and sensibility that were most likely unbridgeable. You can hear the ambivalence—the wariness and nervous excitement—in his reactions, remembered many decades later: Bacon, he said, "talked about packing a lot of things into one single brushstroke, which amused and excited me," he said, "and I knew it was a million miles from anything I could ever do."

There was, too, another complicating factor, which was that, for a long time, Freud very much depended on Bacon’s largesse. Bacon would regularly pull out a bundle of bank notes, saying, "I’ve got rather a lot of these, I thought you might like some of them.

"It would make a complete difference to me for three months," said Freud.


Bacon would regularly pull out a bundle of bank notes, saying, "I’ve got rather a lot of these, I thought you might like some of them."


Gambling, for Freud, was a visceral thrill, and perhaps, too, an expression of his disdain for conventional notions about what matters in life. It was not yet, however, a way of life—much less a philosophy—as it had become for Bacon, whose more extreme and theatrical proclivity for gambling beguiled Freud, as did the beautiful rhetoric Bacon used to explain his habit. It was all of a piece with Bacon’s attitude to painting: the emphasis on risk; the willingness to stake all on a spontaneous swipe of a rag or smear of the hand; the conjuring of nightmare and disaster; and the tendency to destroy as much as he created. It all exemplified how Bacon’s work, in Freud’s own phrase, "related immediately to how he felt about life."


Only by going too far can you go far enough. —Francis Bacon


All this had almost nothing in common with Freud’s own exacting methods. Bacon’s approach— "only by going too far can you go far enough," as he put it—was rooted in a gambler’s mentality. In reality, he exaggerated aspects of his approach to making art, and most of his paintings, especially in the 1940s and 50s, actually involved a lot of labour. But his method was still a world away from Freud’s patient and concentrated scrutiny, his slow accumulation of observed lines and stylized hatchings. Where Freud spent weeks and months on a portrait, Bacon talked during these years about images being handed to him ready-made, dropping into his mind, one after the other, like slides.

Freud himself was never a serious, self-destructive drinker; remaining in control mattered too much to him. It was Bacon who led this dance—Bacon with his epic benders, his charisma, his compulsive generosity, all of which [Freud’s wife] Caroline Blackwood found terribly seductive.

Neither husband nor wife had been faithful, although Freud’s straying was, as usual, more egregious than hers. The collapse of a marriage—especially a marriage between two volatile personalities—is never straightforward. And yet Freud later said, in a typically sly construction, that, "If there’s such a thing as fault, putting it mildly it was completely my fault." Blackwood herself claimed that the main reason for the collapse of the marriage was Freud’s gambling. It was an obsession that lasted decades. He was in thrall to it. Breaking even was the one thing he detested.

Even if Blackwood’s claim is only partially true, it’s certainly the case that Freud’s whole mentality through these years was infected by Bacon’s devotion to leading a life of chance. When Daniel Farson, who was part of the Soho circle, asked Blackwood why her marriage to Freud had ended, she asked, "Have you ever driven with him?"


When a friend asked Blackwood why her marriage to Freud had ended, she responded, 'Have you ever driven with him?'


"Yes," he replied, "I was so terrified that when he stopped at a red light, for once, I threw myself out."

Exactly," came Blackwood’s reply. "That’s what being married to him was like."


 The Art of Rivalry: Four Friendships, Betrayals, and Breakthroughs in Modern Art (Random House) will be released August 16, 2016.









How Monaco and France Inspired Francis Bacon






MONTE CARLO — The glamorous Mediterranean principality of Monaco is not usually viewed as a cradle of pioneering modern art. Yet in the 1940s, the painter Francis Bacon spent three productive years there, developing his best-known pictorial theme: the “screaming” popes, inspired by a Velázquez portrait.

Those years are the focus of  Francis Bacon: Monaco and French Culture which runs through Sept. 4 at the Grimaldi Forum in Monte Carlo and then opens on Sept. 30 (in an expanded version that also highlights Bacon’s Spanish influences) at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain, illustrating the influence of Monaco on Bacon’s career and his lifelong relationship with France.

There are 66 Bacon oil paintings on show, along with a dozen works by Picasso, Soutine and other artists who worked in France and inspired him. Bacon was born in Dublin but spent most of his life in Britain, travelling frequently to Paris, where he kept a studio apartment. The exhibition is curated by Martin Harrison, a Briton who edited the first catalogue raisonné of Bacon’s work, published in June.

Bacon, who visited Monaco as early as 1940, moved there in July 1946 with the proceeds of a painting sale.

One of Monaco’s undisputed attractions for the painter was gambling.

“I became very obsessed by the casino, and I spent whole days there,” the artist recalls in a filmed interview that is part of the exhibition. “I used to think that I heard the croupiers calling out the number at roulette, the winning number, before the ball had fallen into the socket.”

On one particular afternoon, Bacon “heard these echoes” as he was playing “rather small stakes” at three different tables. Soon, he had won himself the equivalent of 1,600 pounds — “a lot of money for me then” — which he immediately spent on renting a villa, stocking it with food and drink, and entertaining nonstop. Ten days later, Bacon said, he could barely afford the fare back to London.

Monaco was more than just about fun and games. It was here that Bacon started developing his pope paintings, a few months after his arrival, by copying the Velázquez masterpiece Portrait of Innocent X (circa 1650).

“I don’t know how the copy of the Velázquez will turn out,” he wrote to his friend Graham Sutherland in December 1946. “I have practically finished one I think, and am going to start on a portrait I want to do, but it is thrilling to paint from a picture which really excites you.”

Bacon ended up destroying most of those early depictions of popes. One survivor, Head VI (1949) — a howling, caged figure in a purple shoulder cape — is in the exhibition. Next to it are his later paintings of popes and authority figures. Another source of inspiration for the series, in addition to the Velázquez portrait (represented in the show by a 19th-century copy), is a clip of the screaming nurse from the 1925 Sergei Eisenstein movie Battleship Potemkin.

Art historians interpret the popes as depictions of dictatorial figures, but also as evocations of Bacon’s father, a retired army major with whom the artist had a difficult relationship.

Although he lived for three years in Monaco, Bacon — a studio painter — scarcely ever depicted the Mediterranean coastline. It appears as a thin, ribbonlike blue strip that runs across two unrelated paintings in the show: Fragment of a Crucifixion (1950) and Dog (1952).

The exhibition illustrates the deep attachment that Bacon had to France, a country he first visited in his late teenage years and to which he often returned.

A robust Rodin sculpture of a woman stands beside equally corpulent and muscular Bacon male nudes. Picasso’s swirling and circular Femme couchée à la mèche blonde (1932) hangs next to Bacon’s similarly shaped Lying Figure in a Mirror (1971).

Bacon’s relationship with France reached its apotheosis in 1971, when he became the only living artist aside from Picasso to have a retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris. Photographs show him smiling at the exhibition preview and at a celebratory dinner, surrounded by dignitaries and intellectuals.

Yet his public glory was coupled with personal tragedy: Two days before the preview, Bacon’s lover, George Dyer, who was in Paris with him, committed suicide. A posthumous depiction of Dyer (Portrait of a Man Walking Down Steps, 1972) is among the show’s most poignant displays.

Dyer reappears in the exhibition’s closing section — a partial recreation of Bacon’s studio at his death in 1992 — via a note that he wrote to Bacon in Paris, and a black-and-white photograph. Archival material consists of color photographs of the crowded atelier, and facsimiles of the paraphernalia that he left behind. These include a magazine cover picturing the Formula One driver Ayrton Senna, medical images of diseased feet and toenails (a major source of inspiration for Bacon), and a painting of a crucifixion by the 13th-century Italian artist Cimabue.

One standout document (an original) is a letter from Bacon to the Fiat chairman Gianni Agnelli, who had refused to lend Bacon’s three heads of Henrietta Moraes (an artists’ model) for the Grand Palais show.

“As it is probably the last retrospective exhibition I shall have,” Bacon writes in large, slanting cursive, “I would be very very grateful if you would change your mind and lend it, as I believe them to be one of the best sets of 3 heads I have done.”

Agnelli eventually agreed.




              Some of the Francis Bacon paintings on view through Sept. 4 at the Grimaldi Forum in Monte Carlo.






West Cork photographer reflects on friendship

with late painter Francis Bacon




      West Cork-based photographer John Minihan was in Monaco

recently to see an exhibition of paintings by his late, great friend





AN EXHIBITION of Francis Bacon’s paintings anywhere in the world is always a major artistic event. In Paris he has approached the status which was once accorded to Picasso. Hardly a month passes without reading about the artist whose paintings sell for record millions.

He’s also appreciated further south. I was invited recently to view the summer exhibition at Monte Carlo’s Grimaldi Forum, entitled Francis Bacon, Monaco and French Culture.

The installation with sensitive lighting guides the viewer from one room to another, each room more exhilarating than the other with Screaming Pope, Triptych’s, Heads by Bacon inevitably present, a portrait gallery of his friends, since the heads are always of people he knew, like Michel Leiris 1976; who was a close friend of the artist for many years.

For me it was a visual and emotional tour de-force — seeing the work that was so familiar to me for over 50 years and seeing others that have never been exhibited and were found by Martin Harrison who curated the Monaco exhibition and whose definitive five-volume catalogue raisonne (by the Estate of Francis Bacon, costing £1,000) was published in June, the most scholarly work on Francis Bacon now in print.

The extraordinary intense emotional charge in his works is still shocking and enthralling an ever- growing public, books about Bacon are constantly published with titles, Bacon and Picasso, Bacon and Henry Moore, Bacon and Rodin, Bacon and Nazi propaganda.



During the 1950s, Bacon lived in the south of France, and loved visiting his favourite city Paris, where he regularly visited the Musées Rodin. I first met and photographed the artist in 1971 outside the Marlborough Street Magistrates Court in London where he had just been found not guilty of possessing cannabis following a police raid.

He moved effortlessly from the high life to the world of the Colony Club in Dean Street, Soho. Hosted and founded by his friend Muriel Belcher, who created a refuge for Bacon along with petty criminals, actors, poets and those who were Beats of a certain generation. Sadly the Colony Club is no longer with us, those who knew Francis are diminishing in number, Soho is now very much a mixture of cafés and overpriced restaurants.




             Attendees at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco look at paintings by Francis Bacon.



Like many others I was captivated by the Colony Club and spent much of my time there in the early 70’s and 80’s.

Those who frequented it went there in the hope that Francis Bacon would be there in his affable and abusive manner, “Champagne for your real friends and real pain for your sham friends” was his favourite toast.

As obstreperous and obnoxious as he could be to people at the Colony, he was always kind to me inviting me to his show in Paris in 1977 at the Claude Bernard Gallery. I have fond memories of Francis sitting alone a few years before he died, having lunch and liquid refreshment at the most exquisite Bibendum Restaurant in what was the Michelin Building on the Fulham Road, a 10 minute walk from the Bacon Studio at 7 Reece Mews, South Kensington.



I remember calling him on the day of his retrospective at the Tate Gallery in 1985 and asking what time he would arrive, as I wanted to photograph him outside on the steps of what was then the original Tate Gallery, now renamed Tate Britain.

As always, his manner over the phone was welcoming and he said I should be there about 2pm as he would be arriving with his friend’s Richard Chopping and Denis Wirth-Miller for what was then his second retrospective at the Tate.

The press pack were already in the gallery waiting for Bacon who gave me the exclusive outside this illustrious building.

His subjects were always a handful of friends and himself painted from photographs.

He would often visit the Victoria and Albert Museum, near his studio Mews home, and look at the Eadweard Muybridge photographs in the collection, very often stopping at the Auto-photo booth in South Kensington tube station to pose for a sequence of head shots, that he would paint from.

Bacon created his own legend well before he became a Sunday supplement name.

Born in Dublin in 1909, moving between England and Ireland in his childhood, receiving little formal education — his time in Ireland was marked by the violence in the early years of the Troubles.

“I was aware of danger at a young age,” Bacon would say. It was a world from which Francis Bacon had to escape in order to invent himself.

Bacon at the Grimaldi Forum in Monte Carlo until September 4, 2016.






                                                                      The late artist Francis Bacon with photographer John Minihan






From Picasso and Matisse to Bacon and Freud,

Artists’ Rivals Are Also Their Greatest Assets






As he trailed Lucian Freud up the stairs of the artist’s Holland Park home, something caught art critic Sebastian Smee’s eye. There, hanging beside the studio door, was a “wanted” poster printed with an image of Freud’s Portrait of Francis Bacon (1952). The flyers had been part of an unsuccessful campaign to recover the work, which was stolen in 1988 from a Berlin museum. To this day, the portrait has never been found.

Bacon and Freud had famously befriended each other in London in the 1940s. But by the 1970s their relationship had completely unraveled. (The photograph, above, from the National Portrait Gallery’s collection captures their friendship near its end.) Even a decade after Bacon’s death in 1992, it was considered taboo to broach the subject with Freud during interviews. So why, Smee wondered, did the portrait of Bacon still hang next to his studio door?

“I knew that he wanted that painting back very much because of its quality,” Smee recently told Artsy. “But I also thought it must have been partly to do with the fact that the subject of the painting was this person who had played such a crucial role in his life and in his artistic career. And in that sense it felt poignant.”

For Smee, the lingering questions posed by the “wanted” poster served as the jumping off point for his latest book, The Art of Rivalry. Out August 16th, it traces the complicated relationships between four pairs of modern masters—Freud and Bacon, Picasso and Matisse, Manet and Degas, and Pollock and de Kooning. Although the term “rivalry” may conjure up visions of bitter adversaries pitted against each other, Smee believes that model is outdated. “The famous rivalries you hear about, whether it’s between Delaccroix and Ingres in the 19th century, or the famous Renaissance rivalries, they’re all about competing with your enemy—a kind of macho idea,” he said. “I detected something really different in these relationships between artists coming into the modern era.”

Instead of out-and-out competition, Smee spends much of the book exposing the layers of uneasy friendship and intimacy that existed between the pairs—subtle moments that are often overlooked in the art historical narrative. “I just related to it; I think perhaps we all can, if there are people in our lives who we are seduced by and impressed by,” Smee said. “We’re drawn to them—and if they’re an artist, their way of looking at things—and that’s a very intoxicating feeling. But at the same time, we are made conscious of things that may be lacking in ourselves, and again, if we’re artists, in our own artistic approach.”

Freud’s relationship with the older Bacon came early in his artistic career. Although he always painted portraits, initially these were crafted in a childlike, innocent manner. The smooth surfaces and wide eyes of Freud’s early subjects were miles away from the eventual fleshy, paint-heavy portraits that would go on to define his oeuvre. It was Bacon’s risk-taking, his loose, smeared paint and fascination with the space surrounding his sitters, that inspired the younger artist. Freud later said, “I think that Francis’s way of painting freely helped me feel more daring.” Bacon’s influence led the painter—considered by critics to be an excellent draftsman—to give up drawing completely for several years, resulting in a rapid shift in style that alienated many of his supporters. In fact, art historian Kenneth Clark, one of the artist’s early admirers, never spoke to Freud again.

Public rejection and disapproval often helped forge these artistic relationships. It wasn’t until the modern era that originality emerged as a factor in the way art was judged, a shift “that creates all sorts of problems,” Smee noted. “Once you value originality over so many other things, you lose hold of the criteria that used to exist to help us judge the quality of art. It affects the artists themselves in profound ways, because they’re suddenly unable to know for sure whether what they’ve just done is any good.”

Matisse’s experiments with Fauvism in the early years of the 20th century are one such example. These works, so far from accepted artistic practice at the time, provoked panic attacks, insomnia, and fierce anxiety as the painter considered public reaction. “In that context, other artists become incredibly important—people whose judgment you can trust, people who you can admire for their own originality and their own artistic virtues, whatever they may be,” Smee explained.

Matisse and Picasso served as each other’s sounding boards for years, with each pushing the other to new experiments and broader horizons. At first, it was Matisse who took the risks—painting with increasingly brighter colors in flatter and more saturated compositions. Picasso’s work, while original and capable, did not yet push boundaries in the same way as his fellow painter. But as the two of them spent hours together, often in the home of Leo and Gertrude Stein, Picasso started to chafe at living in the established artist’s shadow.

“I think Matisse deeply destabilized Picasso in a way that ended up being unbelievably fruitful for his whole artistic career,” Smee explained. “It’s a dynamic of being drawn to him and the things he was experimenting with and his influences, and yet at the same time pushing against him and trying to find his own identity and his own voice.” Inspired in part by the African masks that fascinated Matisse, Picasso commenced work on his eventual masterpiece, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907). And while Matisse initially thought of Picasso as a protégé, the older artist eventually realized that the relationship might be more fluid than he first imagined—even taking cues from Picasso’s competing artistic school of Cubism.

ometimes the rivalries between the artists had an obvious visual representation. Such was the case with Manet and Degas, whose relationship came to head when Degas painted a portrait of his fellow artist and his wife, Suzanne. Inexplicably, Manet—who was known by all as an easygoing and affable man—slashed the painting in half, slicing through his wife’s face and body. Degas later began to repair the painting with a strip of canvas but never got around to repainting the missing portion. De Kooning and Pollock’s rivalry had an even more visceral personal connection. In a move that shocked the close-knit New York art world, de Kooning began an affair with Ruth Kligman, Pollock’s lover, soon after Pollock died in a car crash.

What is perhaps most intriguing, however, about Smee’s four pairings is the undercurrent of uncertainty that runs throughout. In a world where a Picasso sells for $179 million and a Pollock for $140 million, it can be easy to forget that these artists once felt insecure, even threatened, as they set out to create works that would redefine artmaking in the coming decades. “You really do feel their vulnerability in these early years,” Smee said. “And that’s something that when they’ve become haloed in this aura of greatness, you think, ‘Oh, it must have been always like that. They must have always known that they were great.’ And I just don’t believe that at all.”





                                                                         Harry Diamond, Francis Bacon; Lucian Freud, 1974.






New Francis Bacon Exhibition Announced By Guggenheim Bilbao




Francis Bacon Exhibition, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao



ArtLyst  |  Art News  |  Monday 8 August 2016


A new exhibition of the work of Francis Bacon titled Francis Bacon: From Picasso to Velázquez has been announced by the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. The show presents a selection of nearly 80 of the Anglo-Irish artist’s most compelling paintings, including some of his most important and yet least exhibited paintings. These are displayed alongside the works of the classic masters from French and Spanish culture who played an influential role in his career, including El Greco, Diego Velázquez, Toulouse-Lautrec, Pablo Picasso and Alberto Giacometti.

The exhibition will span six decades of Bacon’s career over eight rooms, including his portraits, nudes, crucifixions, landscapes and bullfighting series, offering a new perspective on the artist’s oeuvre by highlighting the impact that French and Spanish cultures exerted on his art. Visitors will be able to see one of his earliest works Composition (Figure) (1933) alongside Picasso’s series of bathers, the monumental triptych Three Studies of Figures on Beds (1972) with John Philip’s La Bomba (1863) and the Portrait of a Dwarf (1975) with Velázquez’s The Buffoon el Primo (1664).

The human figure is at the core of most of his compositions, which reflect a stark existentialist view of the individual. Bacon painted extraordinarily expressive portraits with a large dose of authenticity, which means being alive in all senses and with all its consequences. He sought to capture the mystery of life and reduce reality to its essence, synthesizing it in the guise of paint. 

Bacon created a new universe of images conceived via literature, film, art, and his own life using a totally unique language, reflecting human vulnerability with utter rawness. The exhibition will show how Bacon broke down many barriers that were deeply entrenched at the time, placing human beings in front of a mirror in which we could see ourselves in a raw, violent way. It will become apparent how Bacon was an avid consumer of French and Spanish culture, developing obsessions with the literary and visual works of the countries’ masters from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries, appropriating and twisting their visual language in order to create his own unique style.

The exhibition is organised by Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in collaboration with Grimaldi Forum Monaco, curated by Martin Harrison.

Francis Bacon from PICASSO TO VELÁZQUEZ 9·30·2016/1·8·20 2017 Guggenheim Museum Bilbao




                                              Portrait of Michel Leiris, 1976, Francis Bacon











                                                                          By Jon Lys Turner






Now that Soho is no longer the shabby but lively area it once was, and has perhaps largely lost its reputation as a bohemian enclave, it may be inevitable that more books will appear celebrating its golden days. The period from the mid-1930s through to the mid-1980s might be seen, in retrospect, as one when numerous artists, writers, and others, congregated, first in Fitzrovia, the area to the north of Oxford Street and on the west side of Tottenham Court Road, and then Soho, to the south of Oxford Street and on the west side of Charing Cross Road, and talent abounded. Some will, no doubt, question the dates I’ve mentioned, but I think I’m reasonably accurate in suggesting that, by the 1980s, the old idea of bohemia was declining. Observers of bohemia might say that its oncoming death was noticeable before then, and that it was the commercialised pop scene of the 1960s that finally killed it off. But I’ll leave the question of whether or not bohemia still exists, other than in the minds and actions of individuals, for another time.

Jon Lys Turner hasn’t set out to provide a history of bohemian London, but as the central characters, and many of the rest in his book, all spent a fair amount of time in Fitzrovia and Soho, it’s guaranteed that it will add to the library of publications which, in one way or another, revolve around the subject. The name of Francis Bacon in the title will, of course, attract the required attention, but it will be a pity if most of the others mentioned, including Richard Chopping and Denis Wirth-Miller, are overlooked or dismissed as of no interest.

It is true that, in the larger scheme of things, Chopping and Wirth-Miller were comparatively minor artists. Neither did anything likely to change the direction of art, but in their day they both produced work that had something worthwhile to offer. They met in the 1930s – Turner says they encountered each other in the Café Royal on Regent Street, then a fashionable place for more-affluent artists and writers to congregate. Not that they were particularly well-off. Chopping was from a comfortable middle-class home and had a good education, whereas Wirth-Miller had a more basic background (his parents ran what is described as a “down-market hotel), an unsettled childhood, and little extended formal learning. They were both homosexual and soon formed a partnership that was to last for the rest of their lives, albeit with more than a few ups and downs along the way.

They quickly got to know other artists, among them Augustus John, William Coldstream, Lucien Pissarro, and Nina Hamnett. She had been around the Paris bohemian scene in earlier years, and her book, Laughing Torso, published in 1932, and reprinted by Virago in 1984, is a lively account of her encounters with Picabia, Picasso, Modigliani, and many others.  She was a talented artist, but by the late-1930s was beginning a descent into the alcoholism that would blight her later years when she became a character around the pubs and clubs of Soho. A later book, Is She a Lady? (Wingate, 1955) is fragmentary, but interesting, and perhaps shows the influence of her increasingly dissipated life-style.  Denise Hooker’s Nina Hamnett: Queen of Bohemia (Constable, 1986) is informative about her, and Hooker says that Is She a Lady? was “rambling, disjointed and inconsequential, a sad reflection of Nina’s own state.”   There were others that Chopping and Wirth-Miller met, including the poet Anna Wickham, and the Scottish artists, Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde who were, like them, life-long partners and prone to drinking too much and falling out. Roger Bristow’s The Last Bohemians: The Two Roberts – Colquhoun and MacBryde (Sansom & Co., 2012) tells their story.

Chopping and Wirth-Miller soon moved to Soho and the Gargoyle Club where they came across John Minton and Francis Bacon. Turner provides some background information for both, though Bacon has been extensively written about elsewhere, and Minton, if not as well-known, has had at least one book devoted to him (see Frances Spalding’s Dance till the Stars Come Down, Hodder & Stoughton, 1991), and crops up in accounts of the London art scene of the 1940s and 1950s. By this time Chopping had begun to attract some attention when a couple of his paintings were in an exhibition alongside works by Lucien Pissarro, John Nash, Jacob Epstein, and Duncan Grant. But when the war started in 1939 he was called up for service in the army.

Chopping was eventually discharged from the Forces on medical grounds and he and Wirth-Miller resumed their activities. It’s obvious that the main purpose of Turner’s book is to tell the story of how the couple related to Bacon, and in particular how Wirth-Miller got along with the more-famous artist. Chopping, though a heavy drinker and sexually promiscuous, wasn’t much inclined towards Bacon’s approach to art or life. But, as I said earlier, it would be a pity if his work, and that of Wirth-Miller, was ignored simply because it didn’t match up to Francis Bacon’s paintings. Chopping became quite successful with illustrations for children’s books and for those about natural history. You can still pick up copies of the book he did about British butterflies. And, a little time later, he achieved a degree of minor fame for the covers he designed for several of Ian Fleming’s James Bond books.

Wirth-Miller probably never achieved great success as an artist, and was fated to always be dominated by Francis Bacon. They spent a lot of time in each other’s company, both in London and at the Storehouse, the property that Chopping and Wirth-Miller had bought in Wivenhoe. Turner has stories of them painting together and consequently creating problems for later researchers trying to decide if some of Bacon’s canvases could have had contributions from Wirth-Miller. Also, it would seem that, in more recent years, collectors and others, perhaps wanting to make a financial killing, or possibly a name in the art world, have bought canvases by Wirth-Miller and scraped off the top layer of paint in the hope that there may be a Bacon painting underneath. He was known to have left unfinished paintings at the Storehouse that Wirth-Miller possibly painted over.

It would be unfair to dismiss Wirth-Miller as simply a crony or follower of Francis Bacon. His work was in an exhibition, British Landscape Paintings, at the Lefevre Gallery in 1944. As Turner puts it: “There was no better commercial gallery in London at that time for his debut. The association gave him validity as an up-and-coming artist.”  And it’s worth quoting Turner again on Wirth-Miller’s paintings: “He was already developing non-narrative landscape at this time. The mood of the works may suggest a threat from nature, which would become more obvious in the darker, later paintings, but no story is explicit. The works are deliberately unpopulated and consciously full of movement: they are a moment and not a narrative in the manner of Constable’s The Haywain. The only storyteller is the viewer.”

Turner, referring to the post-war bohemia in London, mentions the Colony Room Club on Dean Street in Soho. Opened in 1948, it soon became a notorious hang-out for Francis Bacon, the photographer John Deakin, John Minton, and Wirth-Miller. When Chopping was taken to the Colony Room he quickly came to see it as a “hellhole,” a description that quite a few others may have agreed with. There are any number of reminiscences of the drinking and bickering and worse that went on in the Colony Room, though Bacon appears to have thrived on the atmosphere of verbal aggression that, if various accounts are to be believed, was the norm as the nights wore on and drinks were downed. Sophie Parkin’s The Colony Room Club, 1948-2008: A History of Bohemian Soho (Palmtree Publishers, 2012) provides a useful account of the club. It’s also worth referring to Robin Muir’s Under the Influence: John Deakin, Photography and the Lure of Soho (Art Books Publishing, 2014).

Despite the drinking, Chopping and Wirth-Miller were busy with their respective projects. Chopping got good reviews for work in the Royal Academy Summer exhibition in 1952, and his paintings were also on show at the Hanover Gallery. As a result, he received commissions for portraits. And Wirth-Miller had successful exhibitions at the Beaux Arts Gallery in 1956 and 1958. They were not short of money and Wirth-Miller turned out to be an imaginative speculator on the Stock Exchange and added to their overall income. He went on a trip to Tangier with Bacon, while Chopping indulged himself closer to home with various male friends. His behaviour, which he was always quite open about, didn’t seem to initially affect their relationship, though Turner does say that it “was sowing the seeds of further problems.” Wirth-Miller’s association with Bacon appears to have been based on shared interests in drinking and painting and was not necessarily sexual.

As the 1950s progressed attention switched from the Neo-Romantic movement in British art and painters like the two Roberts, Minton, Keith Vaughan, Robin Ironside, and John Craxton, to the so-called Kitchen Sink school, the more abstract artists associated with St Ives, and the abstract expressionists from the United States. Pop Art was also starting to make itself known. Chopping and Wirth-Miller, never perhaps at the forefront of artistic activity, found themselves beginning to be forgotten. Bacon, of course, was too big a name by this time and individual enough to be able to withstand attempts to dismiss him along with others active in the 1940s and early-1950s. There were casualties, too, among the Soho bohemians. Nina Hamnett died in 1956 after throwing herself from her upstairs flat onto some railings. John Minton committed suicide in 1957.  Robert Colquhoun died in 1962 as a result of his alcoholism, Robert MacBryde was killed in an accident in 1966, probably while drunk. Keith Vaughan killed himself some years later.

Wirth-Miller’s landscapes were still arousing a certain amount of interest, and thanks to his friendship with the fashionable interior designer, David Hicks, they were recommended to the well-to-do as suitable for hanging in their houses, Chopping, in the meantime, had started to devote more time to writing, and his first novel, The Fly, was published by Secker & Warburg in 1965. It sold quite well, but a second one, The Ring (Secker & Warburg, 1967), which was about the homosexual underworld in London, was less successful. A third novel was rejected and remained unpublished.

It’s Turner’s contention that bohemia, or at least the bohemia that Chopping and Wirth-Miller thrived in, was dead by 1967. Fitzrovia was for tourists hoping to catch sight of the ghost of Dylan Thomas. It was no longer associated with anything new or interesting in British art. As for Soho, it was “still a place for hard drinking and sexual antics, but the likes of the Colony Room were  no longer attracting young artistic transgressors; it was the same old faces, increasingly alcoholic, their lives more chaotic.”

Chopping and Wirth-Miller continued on their own merry-go-round, though not always in London. Their house in Wivenhoe was a centre for visitors and partying was often in progress. Chopping had obtained a position at the Royal College of Art, though teaching creative writing, but almost lost it when his drinking caused some embarrassment. And Wirth-Miller continued to follow Francis Bacon around as the two drank and argued. There was one terrible experience when he had an exhibition at the Wivenhoe Arts Club. Bacon, by this time famous with exhibitions in London, Paris, and New York, was invited to the opening, turned up drunk, and proceeded to laugh and make disparaging remarks about the paintings. As a result Wirth-Miller, never the most confident of people with regard to his own work, gave up painting and spent the rest of his life drinking, travelling, and becoming increasingly violent towards Chopping. Their arguments, often conducted in public, caused a lot of old friends to stop associating with them.

Their final years were not happy ones, with Chopping suffering from ill-health and Wirth-Miller becoming increasingly senile: “Chopping had made friends with a younger set of people, but he was sentimental about the past, about being part of a bohemia that seemed capable of rearranging the universe, and about the old friends from that time, now deceased. Wirth-Miller, meanwhile, retreated further into his troubled memories: his treatment as a child, his imprisonment, and his final failure as an artist.” The reference to “imprisonment” relates to a conviction for “gross indecency” in 1944 when homosexuality was illegal.

Francis Bacon had died in 1992, and Chopping and Wirth-Miller had been approached by journalists who wanted information about him. They refused to co-operate with them, and even turned down Daniel Farson who was working on a biography of Bacon. Farson had, after all, been a part of the Soho bohemia of the 1950s and beyond (see his Soho in the Fifties, Michael Joseph, 1987), so might have expected to be given a more positive response. Chopping had been writing an autobiography for many years, though it was never completed, and that may have had insights into their friendship with Bacon. Farson’s book, The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon (Vintage, 1993) mentioned Chopping and Wirth-Miller a few times, but the latter claimed that it was full of inaccuracies.

Richard Chopping died in 2008 and Denis Wirth-Miller in 2010. It surprises me that both, like Bacon, lasted so long, bearing in mind their chaotic life-styles. It’s understandable that they resented the fact that when journalists contacted them they only wanted to talk about Francis Bacon or Ian Fleming. Both Chopping and Wirth-Miller had produced some work of value, and rightly thought they ought to be credited for it. But they’re probably now fated to be footnotes in books about Bacon or Lucien Freud. They had known Freud in their younger days but had fallen out with him. They’ll be remembered in connection with him because of a painting that Wirth-Miller gave to Jon Lys Turner. It was said to be an early example of Freud’s work, though the painter always denied that it was. But a recent BBC TV documentary seems to have established that it was, at least in part, painted by Freud when he was a very young student at the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing. Chopping and Wirth-Miller were also there at the same time.

There’s no getting past the fact that, had it not been for the Francis Bacon connection, The Visitors’ Book (the title refers to the guest register at The Storehouse in Wivenhoe) might never have been published. And that would have been a pity because it provides a fascinating picture of a period in British art, the 1940s and 1950s, that has been neglected in recent years. The bohemian capers and tragedies have sometimes been written about, but too much of the art has been overlooked. It wasn’t all just Bacon and Freud.

I remember the splendid exhibition, A Paradise Lost: The Neo-Romantic Imagination in Britain, 1935-55 at The Barbican in 1987. Malcolm Yorke’s The Spirit of Place: Nine Neo-Romantic Artists and their times (Constable, 1988) followed. In 2002 The Barbican had Transition: The London Art Scene in the Fifties, with an informative book using the same title (Merrell Publishers Ltd) by Martin Harrison accompanying it. Robin Ironside: Neo-Romantic Visionary was an exhibition in Chichester and Chester in 2012. And the two Roberts (Colquhoun and MacBryde) had an exhibition devoted to their work at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, 2015.

I’ve used a few examples to indicate how much was happening in the 1940s and 1950s when Richard Chopping and Denis Wirth-Miller were active. And, for all its follies and foibles, there was a productive bohemia.

The Visitors’ Book: In Francis Bacon’s Shadow — The Lives of Richard Chopping and Denis Wirth-Miller by Jon Lys Turner, Constable, 392pp, £20





                                                           Richard Chopping and Denis Wirth-Miller in the shadow of Francis Bacon






  'London Calling' at the Getty and the tension between abstract and figurative painting









        The center panel of Bacon’s triptych derives from Eadweard Muybridge’s 19th-century photographic studies of wrestlers



 Is the School of London real?

A new exhibition at the J. Paul Getty Museum features six prominent painters working in London in the decades following World War II, and it assumes as much — although without making a vigorous case for their coherence as an artistic school one way or the other. “London Calling: Bacon, Freud, Kossoff, Andrews, Auerbach, and Kitaj” is a pretty loose-limbed show. It hinges on what the artists didn’t do rather than what they did.

What they didn’t do is make abstract paintings.

Postwar art saw abstraction definitively push figurative painting to the margins, where it mostly languished for a generation. Pushback came from several quarters in the 1950s and into the early 1960s. It rumbled through Willem de Kooning’s “Woman” paintings, as well as the black paintings of Jackson Pollock. Most notably as a group, it fueled the great Bay Area figurative paintings of David Park, Richard Diebenkorn, Elmer Bischoff and Joan Brown.

It came from London too. Elena Crippa — the Tate Britain curator who co-organized the show with Getty director Timothy Potts and drawings curator Julian Brooks — notes “the central role granted to the human figure” in the British painters’ work.

All but 12 of the show’s 51 paintings come from the Tate, which has considerable depth in these artists’ work. Each gets his own room in “London Calling.” Two-thirds of the way through, a seventh room mixes 27 small studies and works on paper by all six. The artists were friends, colleagues and carousing pals, and eventually they all showed their work with the same London gallery (Marlborough Fine Art)

Yet the artistic differences among them is most often dramatic. It’s a very long way from the strangled heads and twisted torsos of Francis Bacon to the lurching London streets of Leon Kossoff or the gooey painted flesh of a  Lucian Freud nude.

The show’s title, “London Calling,” is somewhat incongruously drawn from the postpunk 1979 album of that name by the band the Clash.  It’s incongruous because the painters were at least a generation older than the twentysomething British bandmates. But the “clash” slyly being intimated by the show is between these painters as committed figurative artists in an era dominated by abstraction.

I think that misses the mark.

That sort of clash is more fittingly applied to an art movement like the one known in Britain as Stuckism, which elevates often untutored figurative expression above the dominance of academic Conceptual art. Stuckism is reactionary. The highly refined paintings at the Getty are anything but.

Rather than oppose dominant abstraction, these artists probe the tension between the figurative and the abstract. The friction yields the paintings’ energy. Techniques of radical abstraction are used as a powerful tool in constructing a compelling image.

The show’s first great painting to navigate those shoals is Frank Auerbach’s riveting “Oxford Street Building Site I” (1959-60), which piles on thick slathers of oil paint. London was being rebuilt after the urban ruin of wartime blitzkriegs, and Auerbach positioned his painting to be as much of a physical, material construction site as the scene it depicts.

The palette is a wide array of browns — raw umber, chestnut, russet, burnt sienna and more. Red, green, black, white and other submerged colors enter the mix, but the dominant browns that Auerbach troweled on attach the gravity associated with Old Master painting to his own work. Engorged layers of firm, deliberate strokes of clotted paint are themselves objectified, even as they describe objects like machinery, a fence or a steel I-beam.

As surely as Britain was rebuilding London, Auerbach was engaged in rebuilding British painting, which had mostly languished in the Modern era. And he used abstraction as one forceful implement in his toolbox. The conjoined construction of image and canvas manufactures a painting as edifice.

The show opens with six paintings by Michael Andrews (1928-1995), the least-known, least captivating of the group. His work ranges from precisionist realism, which recalls the measured tedium in paintings by his teacher, Sir William Coldstream, to optically distorted realism, which also follows Coldstream’s dull commitment to painting only what the eye sees.

Andrews’ best work is an eccentric view of himself teaching his young daughter to swim. The child’s kicking, flailing feet dissolve into flecked splashes of light, while refraction through the dark water turns the adult’s foot into an oversize, stable anchor. A familial narrative merges with a salute to conformist tradition.

Next comes Auerbach, whose inventive fusion of abstraction and figuration packs a sudden wallop. (On first view, several landscapes could be mistaken for being completely abstract.)

Kossoff, whose thickly gestural canvases are stylistically most like Auerbach’s, chronicles the grinding anxieties of modern city life. And American expatriate R.B. Kitaj (1932-2007), who first proposed (and then withdrew) the School of London moniker, painted literary themes in overlapping, abruptly clipped planes that recall torn collages.

The two most well-known artists, Freud (1922-2011) and Bacon (1909-1992), occupy the final two rooms. Mostly they share artistic celebrity.

Freud (psychoanalyst Sigmund’s grandson) is among the most overrated painters of our time. Nine of the 14 canvases are in the repetitive post-1970 style that linked him to international developments in Neo-Expressionism. Impasto paint becomes sensuous skin in nudes whose eccentric poses are sometimes claimed to expose underlying states of psychological strain in the confrontational dialog between artist and model.

Yet it is the confrontational dialog between painting and viewer in his earlier work that is infinitely more captivating. The thinly painted, finely wrought 1947 picture of a staring young woman who wraps her white-knuckled hand around a kitten’s neck is as weirdly mesmerizing as anything in German New Objectivity painting from before the war. Made in its immediate aftermath, the woman’s gesture is somewhere between caressing and strangling innocence and autonomy. A chill goes up your spine.

Bacon’s seven paintings are capped by a big triptych of disquieting figures trapped within flat, blank, geometric voids and caged in a wide, golden frame — a Bacon signature. Art, like life, is its own prison, yet also a place for transgression.

A seated self-portrait on the right is loosely mirrored in a seated portrait at the left showing his lover, George Dyer, who had committed suicide barely 10 months before. In the triptych’s center, the spot where a traditional religious painting would put the Virgin Mary or a crucified Christ, a blob of two entwined figures grapples in a macabre dance of sex and death. Before 1969, homosexual coupling was criminal under British law.

The slick, carefully contrived elegance of Bacon’s paint handling is regularly interrupted by oozing discharges of color. There is no narrative here, only direct visual sensation connected to visceral experience.

“London Calling” is unusual — even unprecedented — for the Getty. It’s the museum’s first-ever historical survey in the field of 20th century painting. The Getty’s own European painting collection ends circa 1900, and the conceit is that contemporary British figurative painting is being connected to a collection of pre-Modern European painting. That’s pretty wobbly.

I’m not so sure we really need yet another art museum to present overviews of contemporary art, especially one with the Getty’s distinctive capacity to explore just about anything else. But if it is to be, perhaps connections of more depth can be drawn.

Bacon’s paintings, for instance, were profoundly influenced by camera images — photojournalism, film stills from Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, medical albums, Eadweard Muybridge’s animal locomotion studies (the center panel in the show’s triptych comes from the British-born California photographer’s studies of wrestlers) and more. The Getty, given its unparalleled photography collections, is uniquely positioned to examine such an angle.

‘London Calling: Bacon, Freud, Kossoff, Andrews, Auerback and Kitaj’

Where: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1200 Getty Center Drive, Brentwood.

When: Tuesdays through Sundays, through Nov. 13. Closed Mondays.

Admission: Free. (Parking $10-$15.)





Essex artists’ hell-raising adventures in Wivenohe with Francis

Bacon feature in new publication The Visitors’ Book






Their hell-raising antics in a small riverside town in north-east Essex became the stuff of local legend.

With week-long parties of hedonistic excess, Denis Wirth-Miller and Richard “Dickie” Chopping carved out a bohemian enclave in sleepy Wivenhoe. Among their guests were famous artists including Francis Bacon, Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde, who would enjoy wild nights of debauchery away from their regular Fitzrovia haunts.

Esteemed artists in their own right – Wirth-Miller for his landscape paintings and Chopping as an illustrator for Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels – they both fell away from the limelight towards the end of their lives. Now, however, the full extent of their story and the roles they played in Britain’s turbulent post-war art scene is being revealed in never-before-seen detail.

Jon Lys Turner, a close personal friend of the couple, was bequeathed their extensive personal archive; a collection of letters, notes and unseen material, which he has used to write The Visitors’ Book. Described by the Tate gallery as “one of the most important finds in decades”, the archive offers a unique insight into the couple’s lives together and the intriguing social scene around them.

Turner, himself a successful creative designer, was at first unsure what to do with his inheritance. But after arousing the interest of arts experts, who were captivated by its contents, he started the painstaking four-year process of cataloguing the vast array of material.

The collection covers decades of their life together, from when they first met at a Noel Coward show in 1937, through to Bacon’s death in 1992. Some of their earliest days together came when Wirth-Miller was studying at the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing in Hadleigh, alongside Lucian Freud.

Turner said the art school was popular for young men from London during the war. “It was almost like Fitzrovia in the country,” he said. “They could get way from London and come and have a lovely time getting roaring drunk at this huge house.”

The couple’s Wivenhoe home, which they renovated from an old storehouse in 1945, is where much of the book revolves. “It was the bedrock to everything that went on,” explained Turner. Here they would play host to their artistic contemporaries, a group of mostly gay young men, who pushed social boundaries for their art. Turner described their nights in Wivenhoe as “unpredictable, lively and potentially dangerous”.

“There are some pretty hair-raising stories in this book,” he added. “They made the next generation look like amateurs when it came to drinking, debauchery and promiscuity.” While Turner said many of the town’s pubs would ban the men for their drunken behaviour, he claims the letters show how they were accepted and welcomed in the community, despite their unconventional lifestyles.

Michael Parkin, one of the artists who visited the couple in Wivenhoe, said it retained a similar atmosphere to the community portrayed in Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas. Turner added: “They lived against the law as a same-sex couple but they were accepted, loved and embraced by the people.”

The book also shows how destructive some of their relationships could be, particularly the friendship between Wirth-Miller and Bacon. Bacon, who defined friendship as “two people pulling each other to pieces”, would argue fiercely with Wirth-Miller, and was a harsh critic of his work.

Turner describes how Bacon turned up “blind drunk” to one of his friend’s exhibitions at the Wivenhoe Art Club and started slating the paintings on display. “The opening was closed down, people were ushered out and Denis went to pieces,” he added. “He totally destroyed the whole show and did not paint for years.

“Bacon had knocked him down, not just publicly, but in Wivenhoe, where he felt most at home.” Having humiliated his friend, further details emerged of Bacon’s attempts to help Wirth-Miller, painting together on the same canvas. “I found that to be a real revelation,” Turner said.

Turner first met the couple at the Royal College of Art in 1981, where he was studying for his masters degree. While he has been shocked by some of their behaviour he said he would always remember them kindly.

“For me, they completely changed my life,” he added. “I would not have attended the Royal College unless I had won a scholarship and so, the fact they believed in me and helped me along was amazing.

“I loved them dearly, as though they were uncles or part of my family. “But I also found from doing this, some of the reviews of their work have been rather disparaging, calling them lesser artists.

“I don’t believe that their work was not important. “They were the glue that held this early co-operative of artists together.

“I hope that by doing this I can bring their work to a wider audience.” The Visitors’ Book, was published by Constable last month.


Some of the book’s intriguing details

Francis Bacon would only have his hair cut in Colchester. Letters from the artist while in France contain reference to his need to return to see the couple so that he could have his hair cut. Denis Wirth-Miller was a friend of Prince Yusupov, the Russian who took part in the assassination of Rasputin. When Chopping met Wirth Miller for the second time, he was in Cafe Royale in London with the Russian.

The painting Man in the Black Cravat, now proven to have been almost certainly painted by Lucian Freud, is thought to have a portrait of John Jameson, of the Irish whisky family. Jameson was a contemporary of Freud and Wirth-Miller at the East Anglian School of Painting in Hadleigh, where he was rumoured to have pursued an interest in witchcraft.




                              Denis Wirth-Miller and Richard Chopping





Monaco pays homage to Francis Bacon, artist and gambler extraordinaire





Francis Bacon loved to gamble. More than anything else – apart from making art, of course – he loved to gamble at the casino in Monte Carlo, the most famous in the world. "You could go in at 10 in the morning and not come out ’til about four the following morning," declared the Irish-born roué, who apparently did this a lot when living in Monaco, that tiny, showy principality on an ancestral rock in the French Riviera.

Francophile and bon vivant, painter of screaming popes and robust gay sex scenes, Bacon was already a hugely famous artist when he died in Madrid in 1992 aged 82, a week before he was due to lunch in Monte Carlo with a friend. But few could have predicted the levels to which his posthumous fame would skyrocket: in November 2013, a painting by Bacon of his friend Lucien Freud became the world’s most expensive artwork sold at auction, fetching a staggering $US142.4 million ($190.6 million).

The Tate Gallery in Liverpool is presenting the largest exhibition of Bacon’s work staged in the north of England, and the Getty Centre in Los Angeles, drawing from the Tate in London, is featuring Bacon among six postwar British artists who revolutionised and reinvigorated figurative painting. (Australians got up close to the artist’s controversial oeuvre in 2013 when the Art Gallery of New South Wales hosted a five-decade retrospective.)

Here in Monte Carlo, down on the seafront, the great glass-domed Grimaldi Forum is hosting Francis Bacon, Monaco and French Culture, a major new exhibition that celebrates the years in the late 1940s and early ’50s when Bacon lived in Monaco and southern France; a period, argue Monégasques, that gave Bacon his oomph, his guts. That made him.
"Bacon was always returning to Monaco for extensive stays with friends, family and lovers," says Cecilia Auber, our guide at the Francis Bacon Art Foundation, a not-for-profit institute on the ground floor of a small villa in the hilly streets behind the central, long-established Hotel Metropole, rebuilt in 1989 a la belle époque (the "beautiful age" before the First World War) and glimmering at the end of a drive dotted with white statues, as if magicked out of history.  

Bacon first pitched in Monaco in 1946, staying at the compact Hotel dé Ré before moving from villa to villa – bijou residences not dissimilar to that occupied by the foundation, which was inaugurated by Prince Albert II in 2014 on 28 October, Bacon’s birthday.

"It was in Monaco that Francis Bacon started painting the human form," says the chic, straight-backed Auber, stewarding us past the likes of 1929’s Watercolour, Bacon’s earliest surviving painting. "It is also where he began painting on the raw, unprimed side of the canvas."


Order from chance

Just why he did so is fabulously prosaic: having lost all his money at the casino and unable to afford new canvases, he simply turned his used paintings over – and liked the effect. A risk-taker who thrived on extremes (and an asthmatic who appreciated the warm Mediterranean weather), Bacon approached gambling as he did painting: "I want a very ordered image," he told the art critic David Sylvester in 1966, "but I want it to come about by chance."

Lady Luck, the goddess of fortune, seems to be everywhere in Monaco, a constitutional monarchy and tax-free haven that is home to more millionaires and billionaires per capita than anywhere else in the world; and whose palace is located in downtown Monte Carlo – along with the medieval old town, the creamily extravagant Hotel de Paris and Casino Square, a riot of fountains, gold bling and revving Ferraris.

There she is at the tres exclusive Yacht Club de Monaco, with its landmark clubhouse designed by Sir Norman Foster and marina of sleek super-yachts flying the distinctive red-and-white burgee. There, at Thermes Marins, an opulent spa linked by subterranean corridors to the Hotel Hermitage and the aforementioned Hotel de Paris – home to Alain Ducasse’s three-Michelin-starred restaurant Louis XV, done up in chandeliers, cherubs and gold leaf and boasting a superlative tasting menu delivered with Swiss timing and almost balletic grace.

There she is too, at the Wine Palace, a new venue built on the prow of the Yacht Club and kitted out in oak, bronze and dark red leather, with 2300 wines and spirits in its temperature-controlled cellar, complimentary delivery to yachts both berthed and at sea and good-looking staff with serious vinous knowledge.

Asked to name their most expensive tipple, our sommelier Joshua doesn’t hesitate. "Last month we sold a double magnum of 1986 Pétrus for €20,000 [$29,500]," he says, though he won’t say to whom. With just 36,000 permanent residents including Ringo Starr, Shirley Bassey and Novak Djokovic, and regular A-list visitors such as Rihanna and Leonardo DiCaprio, Monaco (and Lady Luck) insists upon, and receives, discretion.

Bacon, who loved a drink, once mistook a bottle of Pétrus for cooking wine and made a stew that was talked about for weeks says Auber, indicating a black-and-white photograph of the artist, dishevelled after a long lunch in Soho, his other spiritual stomping ground.

The foundation’s collection includes more than 2300 items ranging from photos provided by Sydney-based artist Eddie Batache, a long-time friend, and triptychs featuring Bacon’s ill-fated lover George Dyer, to a Paris bathroom door signed by French surrealists including André Masson and Pierre Soulages and completely covered with drawings of penises.

"It is," says Auber sagely, "a homage to the phallus."

But despite the eye-popping door and the emotionally charged paintings (some of which feature in the Grimaldi Forum show) the overall vibe of the foundation is understated and elegant. Curtains, tassels and low-hanging bulbs are drawn from Bacon iconography; interior walls are shades of grey, in keeping with his late-1940s palette.

What Bacon, who lived simply and messily, throwing out much of his work, would have made of this neat, intense homage is anyone’s guess.

"Great art always returns you to the vulnerability of the human situation," declares a wall decal – as indeed, Bacon might have added, does great gambling.


From OK to KO-ed

For just as Lady Luck swans metaphorically about the Grand Casino, a rococo vision with onion-shaped domes inaugurated in 1863 by Prince Charles III (who was in need of a money-spinner), so too does her nemesis. A tour of the building’s interior – marble pillars, gilded mirrors, 10-tonne chandeliers – is accompanied by tales of those, now deceased, who played big and lost. The likes of Fyodor Dostoyevsky went in OK and came out KO-ed.

Today, in the main gambling room, private gambling room and super-private gambling room – a veritable Russian doll of moneyed privilege – the high rolling continues.

"Monaco is a sunny place for shady people," said writer Somerset Maugham, who was among the 700 people at the 1956 wedding of American film star Grace Kelly to Prince Rainier (the now-legendary 1981 family portrait by Ralph Cowan, kitsch yet – with Kelly standing apart and aloof – eerily prescient, can be viewed as part of the palace tour).

The sun and the shadiness were relished by Bacon, who loved nothing more than to take the Train Bleu, the sleeper from Paris, which pulled in right beside the casino – and offered, en route, strangers to meet.

These days, visitors to the casino tend to fly in via helicopter from Nice, or hop off a cruise ship or super yacht moored in the marina at Port Hercules, the natural deep-water bay at the foot of the landmark Rock of Monaco. Sensibly, perhaps, Monégasques are forbidden from gambling in the casino, sparing them from the addiction that gripped Bacon who early on and desperate for cash, had hoped to sell his work there.

 "I always feel with a little clever manipulation the casino would buy our pictures," he wrote to friends in 1946.

It didn’t, and instead the rooms are lavishly decorated with sculptures and paintings of sensuous, Lady Luck-like women, overseeing winners and losers all day and all night long.




   Francis Bacon in 1984.The artist loved the sunny shadiness of Monaco, returning often for extensive stays





 Postcard from Dublin



  The InterContinental hotel is offering wealthy art fans a unique private view  

    a champagne reception for two in Francis Bacon’s studio





Photographs of Francis Bacon often show the artist sitting amid the chaos of his London studio like a bomb survivor surrounded by debris. For 31 years, until his death in 1992, one of the greatest figurative painters of the late 20th century worked in a dingy rented mews space, just six metres by four, that was reached by a steep wooden staircase with a rope handrail. “I cannot work in places that are too tidy,” he declared, with notable understatement.

In 1998, this crucible of creativity was donated to the Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane where, three years later, it was put on show in a purpose-built space — an astonishing feat of relocation that cost over €2m. Even the dust was carefully bagged up and then resprinkled.

Along with the studio, the Hugh Lane acquired an archive of over 7,000 items — including 1,500 photographs, 100 slashed canvases and 70 drawings. Academics can make requests to see these, and some of them are loaned out to exhibitions, but they can now for the first time be viewed privately, by tourists with deep pockets, through a collaboration with the InterContinental Dublin hotel. Set in leafy, wealthy Ballsbridge, this five-star is keen to align itself with modern Irish art, with over 80 works by leading artists such as Sean Scully, Louis le Brocquy and Brian Maguire currently displayed in its public spaces. Its tie-up with the Hugh Lane is part of a range of “insider experiences” being offered by 16 InterContinental hotels across Europe.

While some are interesting if you happen to be there (goldsmithing in Athens, watchmaking in Geneva), the Dublin hotel’s offer seems most likely to merit a special trip, especially in these days of packed-out blockbuster exhibitions and private views that are not at all private. Its package for two people includes the Hugh Lane being opened in the evening just for you and special access to the Bacon archives for two hours. Once at the gallery, guests are served champagne and hosted by Dr Barbara Dawson, the genial director of the Hugh Lane and the Bacon expert who pulled off the extraordinary coup of getting his studio transferred to Dublin.

What has this box of wonders got to do with Ireland? Bacon may have been a keen traveller but his famous atelier was in South Kensington, his spiritual home in Soho, and he was very much a London-lover. He was, however, born in Dublin in 1909 and lived in Ireland, on and off, until the age of 16, when his father kicked him out after discovering him trying on his mother’s underwear. He headed for London, Berlin and then Paris, where Bacon discovered Picasso. The rest is art history.

A great deal of the archive’s treasures came from the sea of apparent rubbish found on the studio floor, and Dawson has selected 21 items to show me (visitors can nominate particular subjects in advance). Two technicians in disposable gloves and steel-toe-capped trainers lay the exhibits out as if they are holy relics, turning pages with spatulas and keeping a watchful eye. “This is not a shrine,” Dawson insists, “it’s an investigation into the painting process.” Some of what we view is little more than ephemera — a business card from the Lowell Hotel in New York, a cheque to Wheeler’s restaurant in London. You can smell the turps on a 1988 Observer Magazine devoted to Irish personalities. Other items have more force, such as a fragmented photo of Lucian Freud sitting on a bed, which clearly influenced the 1969 triptych “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” (a work that sold for $142m in 2013). “This was all found in the chaos,” Dawson sighs.

As with all the best exhibitions, it is the unexpected discoveries that get under the skin. For me it’s an archive photo of Bacon in the dining car of the Orient Express, taken in 1965 with his lover and model George Dyer. It is a happy, tender, after-lots-of-wine snapshot, in marked contrast to the dark seriousness of his work. As Dawson puts it: “Bacon made paintings of the human psyche — and what does it take to do that?” There’s no simple answer, but it is a privilege to be alone with the studio in which he created so many astounding works, talking about such things. And when you see the many empty Krug boxes spread around his “chaos”, it seems only fitting to be doing so with a chilled glass of champagne in hand.




        Bacon in the dining car of the Orient Express with his lover and model George Dyer





Shady person in a sunny place                       





Francis Bacon | A Monaco exhibition and a new catalogue raisonné  

show us more about ‘the last great European Modernist’.


By Jackie Wullschlager





Sometime between 1948 and 1950, Francis Bacon won £1,600 at the casino in Monaco and splashed it all on renting a villa there. The Côte d’Azur, Somerset Maugham’s “sunny place for shady people”, was perfect for Bacon.

“Nobody here is at all interested in ART, which is perhaps a comfort,” he wrote to Graham Sutherland. On the other hand, gambling “is for me intimately linked with painting” — the studio and the gaming tables shared dramas of chance, accident, risk — and “I love being on this coast, with this light, one always seems to be on the edge of the real mystery”. He kept revisiting the principality for the rest of his life.

Francis Bacon, Monaco and French Culture, the summer exhibition at Monte Carlo’s Grimaldi Forum, is pure pleasure: visual, emotional, intellectual. In this glassy seafront gallery, Bacon’s art of sensation and excess is staged in an extravagant mise-en-scène of purple velvet curtains, red carpets and, at the centre, an enormous black room with light filtering through blinds, reminiscent of the shuttering device in the dark early canvases.

 In this cavernous installation, you feel dizzyingly as if you are walking into an airless 1940s Bacon painting. Ghostly striated renderings from 1949 here include “Figure Crouching”, an abject form in a space frame leaking a greenish shadow, never shown before; a little-known snarling “Head”, compressed by tight collar and tie and confined in a cage; and the famous “Head VI”, a screaming Pope with phallic gold tassel mockingly swinging above his nose — Bacon’s first composition to converge imagery from Velázquez’s “Portrait of Pope Innocent X” with a still of the howling nurse from Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin. 

“It is thrilling to paint from a picture which really excites you,” Bacon told Sutherland. It was in 1949 that, at 40, he really found his subject of a figure isolated in a room or constrained abstract space. “I do absolutely understand what Giacometti meant when he said ’why ever change the subject?’” he said. “Because you could go for the whole of your life painting the same subject.”

Nevertheless, variety early on, and the references to Monaco and to French painting as explored here, are revelatory. The unstable forms against a Mediterranean blue ground in “Figure with a Monkey” (1951), where the chimpanzee and the human spectator, manacled in white collar and cuffs, seem imprisoned by a chain fence separating them, was inspired by endocrinologist Serge Voronoff’s experiments with monkeys at the Chateau Grimaldi. “Study of a Dog” (1952) swirls menacingly within a giant roulette wheel set on Monaco’s coastal road with a single palm tree; an azure line denotes the Mediterranean.

That line reappears in “Fragment of a Crucifixion” (1950): two bloodied falling forms, sourced from a photograph of a bam owl carrying its prey, are placed on a canvas left half-unpainted. On this raw surface, small abbreviated walking figures recall the calligraphic taches of Henri Michaux — a pen and ink sketch similar to one Bacon owned is on display — and cars purr through the heat: death amid banal, quotidian reality.

Emerging from the black box of these early works, you enter a brilliant display of the deformed 1960s-80s portraits on shrill coloured grounds: bright yellow for three distorted heads of Henrietta Moraes, shocking pink overwhelming a curled up John Edwards.

The highlights are the paintings composed for Bacon’s 1971 retrospective at the Grand Palais (“Paris is the supreme test”) including “Lying Figure in a Mirror”, an androgynous twisted form evoking Michelangelo’s “Leda and the Swan”, and the gender-bending lilac “Triptych — Studies of the Human Body”, where Bacon contorts and isolates figures derived from a Picasso nude, the Belvedere Torso — the absent head concealed by a black umbrella, another shadow of death — and Caravaggio’s “Narcissus”.

“Portrait of a Man Walking Down the Steps” (1972), unseen for 40 years, depicts Bacon’s lover George Dyer, tentatively holding a blackened window frame as blood drips beneath him on a staircase resembling that of the Hotel des Saint-Peres, where Dyer committed suicide on the eve of the retrospective.

It is among many later rarities: “Study for Self-Portrait” (1980) in a pale, diffused blue reminiscent of Degas’ pastels (“there, this is my Impressionist period”), comes here from a private collection for the first time; “Study of a Bull” (1991), a monochrome of a magisterial, threatened beast receding through a white mirror, on a canvas sprinkled with aerosol paint and dust, is Bacon’s last painting and has never been exhibited before.

Such trophies keep the show startling until the end. Although not all have direct French connections, the 6cole de Paris context, with Giacometti, Soutine and Picasso, favoured by Bacon for “un sens très fort de la tragedie” also on display, resoundingly positions Bacon as the last great European modernist.

Benefiting from years of research unearthing paintings across four ‘I’m like an albatross: I take in thousands of images like fish, then I spit them out on the canvas’ continents, Monaco’s exhibition is curated by Martin Harrison, whose definitive five-volume catalogue raisonné (Estate of Francis Bacon, £1,000) appeared last month. The most significant work of 20th-century art history this decade, it is also lively, engaging and, in a defiantly biographical approach, illuminates works with gossip and anecdote, as well as with iconographic and literary reference.

It features 100 previously unpublished and unseen paintings, ranging from “Landscape with Pope/Dictator” (1946), in which Bacon sets an early version of his recurring motif against a classical colonnade and decorative purple flowers, to “Self-portrait with Injured Eye” (1972), painted after Bacon “suffered many beatings, which as a masochist he may not have found entirely uncongenial ... the injured eye ... stands as an autobiographical symbol”.

There are fewer homosexual couplings (11) than one imagined, more female nudes (18), and an unexpected menagerie of animals alive, dead and ornamental. Bulls, gorillas and dogs predominate, plus a camel with a thrown rider in “Unseated Picador”; “Chicken”, modelled from a Conran cookbook illustration but recalling Soutine in bloodsmudged pathos, on display in Monaco; an idiosyncratic ceramic cat, worked up from a photo of a London cat’s-meat seller, in a malevolent, unique double portrait of Dyer and Lucian Freud.

“Flesh and meat are life,” Bacon said in his final interview. And “I’m like an albatross: I take in thousands of images like fish, then I spit them out on the canvas.” Harrison, in book and exhibition alike, eloquently enhances our understanding of the process, by which Bacon sustained 20th-century figuration with paintings “that can carry over from the sensation to our nervous system”, and continue to disturb and astonish.

Grimaldi Forum, Monaco, to September 4.  




             Francis Bacon ‘Portrait of a Man Walking Down Steps’, (1972)






All together now: on the Francis Bacon catalogue raisonné



The complete collection of Francis Bacon’s paintings is published - at last





It was an absurdity that until June of this year Francis Bacon (1909-92), the foremost British painter of the 20th century and one of the giants of Modernist art, did not have a catalogue raisonné. Researchers had to scour miscellaneous catalogues (including the incomplete 1964 catalogue raisonné compiled by Ronald Alley) in search of images and data. Now, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné, a grand five-volume affair (boxed and bound in dark-grey cloth) documents 584 paintings by Bacon.

No expense was spared in preparing this catalogue. Paintings dispersed worldwide were traced and examined, new photographs commissioned, and technical research carried out. Volume one contains an introductory essay and chronology by Martin Harrison, the Bacon expert. The chronology (illustrated by rare and previously unpublished photographs) draws on primary sources while an essay discusses Bacon’s techniques and materials. Volume five contains Krzysztof Cieszkowski’s extensive bibliography, listing hundreds of items. This volume also reproduces several dozen drawings in dilute oil paint that Bacon did on scraps of paper and book flyleaves. It leaves open the question of whether these cursory outlines should be considered visual notations, skeletal paintings or painterly drawings.

Volumes two, three and four catalogue all the surviving paintings and those photographed before destruction or loss. Each is given a full-page colour illustration (large triptychs are given fold-out pages); facing pages of technical data are supplemented by exhibition history. There are several paragraphs of discussion about the history and condition of paintings, possible influences and sources. The reproductions are exceptionally good: extremely crisp, colour-accurate, with actual-size details so clear you feel you could run your hands over the canvases. Bacon’s paintings have never looked better.

Bacon’s motto was “the National Gallery or the dustbin”. “Bacon destroyed many hundreds of paintings,” Harrison notes, for failing to meet to his standards. There are numerous accounts by collectors of visiting the studio and witnessing Bacon slashing paintings with a straight-edge razor in front of the appalled spectators. Over the years Bacon sometimes set up temporary studios in St Ives, Monte Carlo, Tangiers and at the houses of friends. When he vacated studios he would give abandoned paintings to local painter friends so they could paint on the backs of the canvases. Naturally, the painters rarely did any such thing; they sold the paintings for whatever they could get. 

One of the revelations of this publication is Lying Figure (around 1953), a beautifully painted recumbent male nude. Bacon abandoned the unfinished painting in a temporary studio and when it resurfaced he would not permit to be included in exhibitions.

The development of Bacon’s career is fairly well established. The mystery period is 1929 to 1944, during which time Bacon moved from furniture and rug design to painting. There are only 15 extant works between 1929 and around 1936 and then nothing until the famous triptych of 1944. The catalogue can shed no light on the 1936-44 period. 

During the Second World War Bacon found a unique approach by painting melded, damaged figures in complex, spatially ambiguous interiors. From 1946 until around 1957 he generally painted single figures or animals in linear cages, subdued in colour, against black backgrounds. The period 1957 to 1962 was a transitional one, characterised by a dominance of green grounds and the development of a more energetic and colourful approach to figure painting. From 1962 until his death in 1992, Bacon refined his late mature style of contorted faces and reconfigured bodies against audaciously coloured, dramatic interiors. 

The catalogue documents all this and adds new works: portraits of Bacon’s last love, José Capelo, his last complete painting (of a bull, to be exhibited soon in Monaco) and some others. Harrison has described the publication of this catalogue not as the end of a period but the beginning of a reassessment. For the first time it lets us see everything that the artist allowed to leave the studio. Bacon’s great achievement has been matched by this impeccably thorough and beautiful catalogue. 

• Alexander Adams is an artist and poet based in Bristol. His latest book, On Dead Mountain, is published by Golconda





Bacon el jugador



Montecarlo ofrece la primera parte de la exposición del pintor que tendrá continuidad en otoño en Bilbao.


En ellas se pone al día su relación con la cultura francesa y la pintura española



Mercè Ibarz EL PAÍS — Wednesday 20 July 2016




               Francis Bacon con Joan Miró y André Masson en la inauguración de su retrospectiva en París en 1971



En una carta de 1952 Francis Bacon escribe a sir Colin Anderson, su mecenas entonces, muy preocupado por las repetidas pérdidas del artista en el casino de Montecarlo: “Un día me gustaría explicarle el vicio del juego. Para mí, está íntimamente ligado a la pintura”. Le cuenta que al igual que a veces oye cómo elcroupier apela al número que finalmente ganará un gran pote, sus telas más logradas son un asunto de “suerte” y “casualidad”. No porque sus imágenes se le hubieran impuesto de manera automática sino por ser el resultado de un desafío a la pintura en el que la suerte es “el movimiento accidental del pincel”. Bello, ¿no?

Son algunas de las cosas sobre el pintor de altísima fama hoy que se pueden aprender y apreciar en la excelente exposición que el Forum Grimaldi y la Fundación Francis Bacon presentan en Montecarlo hasta el 4 de septiembre, una muy hermosa muestra a cargo del historiador Martin Harrison, autor asimismo del catálogo razonado del artista editado este mismo año. Para quienes creemos en momentos culturales de probada importancia, este año Bacon es uno. Por el catálogo razonado y por esta exposición de doble recorrido. En la capital monegasca, Harrison presenta las relaciones de Bacon con la cultura francesa. En el Guggenheim bilbaíno presentará en octubre la relación baconiana con la pintura española, a la que habrá que volver porque ciertamente es de envergadura: Picasso, Velázquez, Goya, Miró, Zuloaga...

Si la desgracia abatida sobre Niza y la Riviera francesa no es impedimento para comentar esta exposición y animar a verla, tampoco cabe pensar que el principado de Mónaco se dedique en materia cultural a programar cualquier cosa por ser lo que es en otros aspectos. Más bien su política cultural y la oceanográfica son su contrapeso. Mónaco no es Marbella, por decirlo suave. Desde luego, muchos residen aquí para blanquear su dinero. Otros, como Bacon en 1946, para jugar en el casino.

El pintor de nacimiento irlandés en 1909 y muerte madrileña en 1992 pasó largas temporadas aquí. Se sabe muy poco de su vida artística hasta entonces. Cuenta Harrison que aunque empezó a pintar en 1927 se conservan únicamente veintisiete dibujos y telas de los diecinueve años transcurridos hasta que en julio de 1946 se instaló en Montecarlo. Bacon hizo cruz y raya. Llegó a la ciudad mediterránea gracias a su primera tela vendida aquel mismo año y con una imagen en mente: el retrato de Velázquez del Papa Inocencio II. Una de las obras que por primera vez se ven en exposición es Paisaje con Papa/Dictador, realizada ya en Mónaco. Aquí pintaría las demás telas que parten del cuadro velazqueño en diálogo con el grito de una mujer en el film El acorazado Potemkin de Einsentein. Iconos perdurables, eternos.

Paisaje con Papa/Dictador produce escalofrío baconiano en estado puro. Oscuro, muy oscuro, en el centro está un desdibujado Papa de color morado que grita mientras por su derecha revolotean batallones alados y, a su espalda, el panteón de la civilización clásica no puede protegerle. Es clave su fecha, tras la II Guerra Mundial, y su título, que por primera vez, pero también la única vez en Bacon, apela de manera fuerte a que tras Auschwitz e Hiroshima no hay representante de Dios en la Tierra que valga. Mirar pinturas como si estuvieran fuera del tiempo no es de recibo.

La muestra es en gran medida una revelación de conjunto. Tantísimas obras son inéditas, que por algo Harrison las conoce todas. Lo son incluso para la vecina Francia, que cree sin razón saberlo todo sobre Bacon. París le consagró en 1971 en el Grand Palais, un museo que previamente sólo se había abierto a Picasso (los museos entonces no acogían a artistas vivos). Pero mucho de Bacon había sucedido en Mónaco.

Así la casualidad, el azar, el accidente, resultado del juego. Bacon se pasaba las noches en el casino y a menudo salía sin un céntimo. Al regresar a casa pintaba. Pero un día, sin dinero y sin telas preparadas para pintar, dio la vuelta a un cuadro y se puso a trabajar en la tela sin preparar. De la rugosidad y las muchas capas de pintura necesarias para aplacarla, que dieron una textura casi de cuero, nació en Montecarlo el Bacon definitivo. Ahí es nada.

Si van por allí, no se pierdan una visita (concertada) a la Fundación Bacon, en una pequeña villa urbana que alberga indicios muy interesantes del pintor. Así la puerta del retrete de uno de sus estudios parisinos, pintarrajeada con dibujos pornográficos de sus invitados pintores, Soulages uno de ellos.

Mercè Ibarz es escritora y profesora de la UPF.





Francis Bacon at Monaco’s Grimaldi Forum




An exhibition and a new catalogue show us more about 'the last great European Mondernist'







                                        Triptych — Studies of the Human Body (1970) Francis Bacon



Sometime between 1948 and 1950, Francis Bacon won £1,600 at the casino in Monaco and splashed it all on renting a villa there. The Côte d’Azur, Somerset Maugham’s “sunny place for shady people”, was perfect for Bacon.

“Nobody here is at all interested in ART, which is perhaps a comfort,” he wrote to Graham Sutherland. On the other hand, gambling “is for me intimately linked with painting” — the studio and the gaming tables shared dramas of chance, accident, risk — and “I love being on this coast, with this light, one always seems to be on the edge of the real mystery”. He kept revisiting the principality for the rest of his life.

Francis Bacon, Monaco and French Culture, the summer exhibition at Monte Carlo’s Grimaldi Forum, is pure pleasure: visual, emotional, intellectual. In this glassy seafront gallery, Bacon’s art of sensation and excess is staged in an extravagant mise-en-scène of purple velvet curtains, red carpets and, at the centre, an enormous black room with light filtering through blinds, reminiscent of the shuttering device in the dark early canvases.

In this cavernous installation, you feel dizzyingly as if you are walking into an airless 1940s Bacon painting. Ghostly striated renderings from 1949 here include “Figure Crouching”, an abject form in a space frame leaking a greenish shadow, never shown before; a little-known snarling “Head”, compressed by tight collar and tie and confined in a cage; and the famous “Head VI”, a screaming Pope with phallic gold tassel mockingly swinging above his nose — Bacon’s first composition to converge imagery from Velázquez’s “Portrait of Pope Innocent X” with a still of the howling nurse from Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin.

“It is thrilling to paint from a picture which really excites you,” Bacon told Sutherland. It was in 1949 that, at 40, he really found his subject of a figure isolated in a room or constrained abstract space. “I do absolutely understand what Giacometti meant when he said ‘why ever change the subject?’” he said. “Because you could go for the whole of your life painting the same subject.”

Nevertheless, variety early on, and the references to Monaco and to French painting as explored here, are revelatory. The unstable forms against a Mediterranean blue ground in “Figure with a Monkey” (1951), where both the chimpanzee and the human spectator, manacled in white collar and cuffs, seem imprisoned by a chain fence separating them, was inspired by endocrinologist Serge Voronoff’s experiments with monkeys at the Chateau Grimaldi. “Dog” (1952) swirls menacingly within a giant roulette wheel set on Monaco’s coastal road with a single palm tree; an azure line denotes the Mediterranean.

That line reappears in “Fragment of a Crucifixion” (1950): two bloodied falling forms, sourced from a photograph of a barn owl carrying its prey, are placed on a canvas left half-unpainted. On this raw surface, small abbreviated walking figures recall the calligraphic taches of Henri Michaux — a pen and ink sketch similar to one Bacon owned is on display — and cars purr through the heat: death amid banal, quotidian reality.

Emerging from the black box of these early works, you enter a brilliant display of the deformed 1960s-80s portraits on shrill coloured grounds: bright yellow for three distorted heads of Henrietta Moraes, shocking pink overwhelming a curled up John Edwards.

The highlights are the paintings composed for Bacon’s 1971 retrospective at the Grand Palais (“Paris is the supreme test”) including “Lying Figure in a Mirror”, an androgynous twisted form evoking Michelangelo’s “Leda and the Swan”, and the gender-bending lilac “Triptych — Studies of the Human Body”, where Bacon contorts and isolates figures derived from a Picasso nude, the Belvedere Torso — the absent head concealed by a black umbrella, another shadow of death — and Caravaggio’s “Narcissus”.

“Portrait of a Man Walking Down the Steps” (1972), unseen for 40 years, depicts Bacon’s lover George Dyer, tentatively holding a blackened window frame as blood drips beneath him on a staircase resembling that of the Hotel des Saint-Pères, where Dyer committed suicide on the eve of the retrospective.

It is among many later rarities: “Study for a Self-Portrait” (1980) in a pale, diffused blue reminiscent of Degas’ pastels (“there, this is my Impressionist period”), comes here from a private collection for the first time; “Study of a Bull” (1991), a monochrome of a magisterial, threatened beast receding through a white mirror, on a canvas sprinkled with aerosol paint and dust, is Bacon’s last painting and has never been exhibited before.

Such trophies keep the show startling until the end. Although not all have direct French connections, the École de Paris context, with Giacometti, Soutine and Picasso, favoured by Bacon for “un sens très fort de la tragedie” also on display, resoundingly positions Bacon as the last great European modernist.

Benefiting from years of research unearthing paintings across four continents, Monaco’s exhibition is curated by Martin Harrison, whose definitive five-volume catalogue raisonné (Heni Publishing £1,000) appeared last month. The most significant work of 20th-century art history this decade, it is also lively, engaging and, in a defiantly biographical approach, illuminates works with gossip and anecdote, as well as with iconographic and literary reference.

It features 100 previously unpublished and unseen paintings, ranging from “Landscape with Pope/Dictator” (1946), in which Bacon sets an early version of his recurring motif against a classical colonnade and decorative purple flowers, to “Self-portrait with Injured Eye” (1972), painted after Bacon “suffered many beatings, which as a masochist he may not have found entirely uncongenial … the injured eye … stands as an autobiographical symbol”.

There are fewer homosexual couplings (11) than one imagined, more female nudes (18), and an unexpected menagerie of animals alive, dead and ornamental. Bulls, gorillas and dogs predominate, plus a camel with a thrown rider in “Unseated Picador”; “Chicken”, modelled from a Conran cookbook illustration but recalling Soutine in blood-smudged pathos, on display in Monaco; an idiosyncratic ceramic cat, worked up from a photo of a London cat’s-meat seller, in a malevolent, unique double portrait of Dyer and Lucian Freud.

“Flesh and meat are life,” Bacon said in his final interview. And “I’m like an albatross: I take in thousands of images like fish, then I spit them out on the canvas.” Harrison, in book and exhibition alike, eloquently enhances our understanding of the process, by which Bacon sustained 20th-century figuration with paintings “that can carry over from the sensation to our nervous system”, and continue to disturb and astonish.

Grimaldi Forum, Monaco, to September 4. 





Who Stole These Francis Bacon Masterpieces?



The whereabouts of five Francis Bacon paintings, stolen from his former

partner’s home in Madrid, remain a mystery.





Last July, five Francis Bacon paintings were stolen from a Spanish banker’s home in central Madrid. Thieves disabled the alarm system before slipping into a fourth floor loft belonging to 59-year-old José Capelo, who was in London at the time. They escaped with roughly $28 million-worth of portraits and landscapes by the late British artist, bequeathed to Capelo when Bacon died. 


Neither the doorman nor Capelo’s neighbors noticed anything suspicious the day of the robbery. It was the kind of spotless, silent job romanticized in art heist movies like The Thomas Crown Affair. 

Seven months passed before detectives uncovered any substantial information about the robbery. In February, British private investigators passed on an anonymous email with photos of one of the paintings.

When forensic investigators tracked down the camera used to photograph the paintings, they had found a suspect. In late May, Spanish police released a statement  confirming that seven people had been arrested in connection with the heist. None of the suspects were named. And none of the paintings were recovered—or even publicly identified.

The case seems to have baffled both local police and international investigators. But that’s because every element of the story is baffling.


How did an aging Spanish banker—not an art collector, nor a fixture in the art world—come to possess five paintings by Francis Bacon, whose Three Studies of Lucian Freud set a $142,405,000 world record at auction in 2013? How did such a sophisticated robbery unravel with such an unsophisticated email, easily traced back to a bumbling crew of thieves?


José Capelo met Francis Bacon in the 1980s at a London party hosted by Sir Frederick Ashton, a choreographer for The Royal Ballet. The two were introduced by Barry Joule, a close friend of Bacon, who was 78 at the time and took a shine to the handsome, 35-year-old Spanish financier.  


Capelo was temperamentally different from the other men Bacon had loved—all “brutes,” as he often described them to his longtime friend and biographer, Michael Peppiatt. 

In his dishy memoir, Peppiatt recalls the artist happily relaying that Capelo was a refined man: “The marvelous thing is that I usually only find brutes and with José, who speaks every known language, I can talk about all sorts of things.” What luck, then, that Capelo was also “terribly well hung, almost too well hung,” Bacon gushed. 


“He was physically infatuated with him,” said Peppiatt, speaking to The Daily Beast from his home in Paris. “And Capelo was fascinated by Bacon’s brilliance and aura, but there was a huge age gap between them.” 

Peppiatt frequently had lunches with Capelo and Bacon in London at the height of their love affair. He describes feeling like a chaperone on one such occasion, writing in his memoir that he tried to “extricate myself from this tryst, but neither man will accept my bowing out, although that does not stop them from becoming totally absorbed in a lengthy, delicate billing and cooing.” 


He’d never seen Bacon fawn over a man as he did over Capelo.

“All the acid that was so present before was suddenly gone from his system,” said Peppiatt. “Being in love [with José] probably wasn’t good for his painting. It calmed and tamed him and made him curiously benevolent. He’d always had a benevolent streak, but the characteristic harshness was pacified.” 


But Bacon’s advancing age and poor health (he was asthmatic) ultimately deterred Capelo. 

“I suppose the whole thing was rather tragic,” Peppiatt said of their romance.


In April 1992, Bacon set off to Madrid in hopes of rekindling things with Capelo, despite his deteriorating health and against his doctor’s orders. Four days after arriving, he was rushed by ambulance to the Clínica Ruber, a medical facility specializing in respiratory dysfunction.


He spent six days in intensive care before suffering a fatal heart attack. No one came to visit him, including Capelo, according to one of the nuns who looked after him. She told Peppiatt that Bacon expressed no desire to see anyone. 


Capelo was even less forthcoming. 

“There was no way of getting in touch with him,” Peppiatt said, “and I know that even if I had reached him there would have been a blank wall. José is very reluctant to talk about the relationship.” 


Indeed, he denied most everything that was said about him and Bacon in a taped conversation between the artist and Barry Joule, in which Bacon said he bequeathed $4 million to Capelo in his will (Joule leaked their chat to the London Sunday Times in 2014, claiming Bacon gave him permission to publicize the tapes after his death).


In 2013, a 1987 painting titled “Portrait of José Capelo” went up for sale at a blue-chip Swiss gallery. Capelo also posed for a 1991 triptych that is housed in New York’s Museum of Modern Art, though Bacon told Joule that Capelo asked him to paint over his face. 


Speaking to the Times, Capelo insisted that these conversations were “full of inaccuracies and full of things that are not true.”

 He insisted that he “has never had any inclination to profit from that,” referring to his relationship with Bacon. “Why should I do it now? I don’t want to be a part of that.” 


As for Joule’s claims, Capelo declined to comment beyond stating: “I don’t have that much respect for his opinion and his approach and his views...I think I have a right to my privacy and I want to keep it that way.” 

Two years after Bacon died in Madrid, Capelo bought the apartment that was looted last July, according to El Pais


Much has been written about the self-destructive sadists and thugs Bacon was drawn to — namely, Peter Lacy and George Dyer, both of whom committed suicide. They were brooding, brutish muses who manifested in the raw, “grotesque” imagery that characterized Bacon’s work.


Yet we know little about the artist’s last serious lover. Had Bacon met with Capelo in Madrid before he was rushed to the clinic? Why did Capelo not visit him at his death bed? Was he simply respecting Bacon’s wishes, as the nuns who took care of him suggested? (Capelo could not be reached for comment for this article.) 


In the wake of the robbery, their relationship is perhaps more shrouded in mystery than ever. Capelo himself has become a source of intrigue.

It’s tempting to read into his strident declarations about not wishing to “profit” from their relationship. Was this a subtle dig at Bacon’s former lover John Edwards, who was in charge of the late artist’s estate after Bacon died (Edwards himself died in 2003)? Or a genuine sentiment from a pathologically private man? 


The National Police in Spain could not be reached for comment on the ongoing investigation. Nor did the Bacon estate return repeated requests for comment about the five stolen paintings. 

Their collective worth may seem insignificant compared to what Bacon’s other works have fetched at auction. But most of us care less about the numbers than the untold stories behind these paintings. And if Capelo has any say in the matter, those stories likely won’t be exposed any time soon.





Francis Bacon at The Grimaldi Forum Forces a Complete Reappraisal of his Work







Exactly as the title suggests Francis Bacon: Monaco and French Culture the exhibition at The Grimaldi Forum focuses on the extraordinary influence of French culture on Bacon’s practice. The artist was immediately taken by France after he first visited Paris at the end of the 1920s, and so began a long love affair with the country, which culminated in what he considered to be his greatest achievement—his retrospective at the Grand Palais in 1971. An exhibition only once before bestowed on a living artist (Picasso), and an honor he cherished despite being awarded two Tate retrospectives in 1962 and 1985.

The exhibition is curated by Martin Harrison, the author of the recently published Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné, 2016. The curator’s ten-year research is incredibly in depth and he masterfully brings to the fore Bacon’s influences and sheds new light on the artist’s oeuvre—who would have thought, for instance, that Bacon was so moved by works by Van Gogh that he painted portraits of him in his signature style in 1957?

Harrison brings together famous triptychs as well as less renowned works, which are displayed thematically, highlighting the relationship between his work and France and Monaco. More than 66 paintings by the artist have been collected for the exhibition as well as works by Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, Auguste Rodin, and Chaim Soutine, which have all been cross-referenced with Bacon’s paintings.  Many of the works by Bacon have never been exhibited before, including one of his last ever paintings, For Study of a Bull, 1991. 

All in all this is a thrilling new take on the artist who has always been linked with the decadent streets and pubs of Soho, London. But perhaps this should not come as such a shock as the only Francis Bacon Foundation in the world is actually established in Monaco. It has often been remarked that one of Monaco and Monte Carlo’s biggest attractions for Bacon were the casinos. On his gambling obsession Bacon once remarked in an interview in 1962 that he would often visit them “at 10 in the morning and needn’t come out till about four the following morning.”

More than anything the exhibition sheds light on Bacon before 1960, a period that “we know almost nothing about”, according to Martin Harrison. “But when you put the evidence together, you’re forced to the conclusion that Francis Bacon, as we understand him today, was formed in Monaco.”

The Exhibition Francis Bacon: Monaco and French Culture runs from the 2nd of July through to the 4th of September 2016. 




                           Francis Bacon in Vaux-Le-Vicomte, December, 1977. © Eddy Batache





Inside the heart of darkness:


For fans of Francis Bacon Tate Liverpool’s exhibition is a worthwhile visit










                                                    Photograph of Bacon (c 1962)







Throughout his career, Francis Bacon vehemently denied ever doing preparatory work for his paintings. ‘I do not make sketches nor drawings,’ he said. ‘I just proceed.’ But in Invisible Rooms, Tate Liverpool’s stunning exhibition of the painter’s work, there is an extensive section of sketches, many discovered strewn on the floors and work surfaces of his South Kensington studio after his death in 1992.


The sketches here – of boxers, wrestlers and crouching, caged figures – sit alongside lists of ideas. In almost illegible writing, inside the covers of books, he scrawled hasty reminders to himself of what he might want to paint: ‘portrait of Peter as opposite’, ‘figure going through door as in Eichmann photo’, ‘butcher shop hanging meat’. It could almost be a shopping list, yet these ingredients are the recipe for some of the greatest 20th-century British figurative paintings we know.


A particular favourite source material appears to be studies of the human figure in motion from the 19th-century photographer Eadweard Muybridge. Images of his Soho circle in the Sixties, taken by photographer John Deakin, are also on display, alongside sketches Bacon did based on them.


In the case of Bacon’s fellow artist and friend Isabel Rawsthorne, Bacon took a photograph of her and turned it into a disturbing full-size painting, with Rawsthorne standing caged in a circular arena, face glowering and distorted. As an artwork and composition, this piece is captivating; as a portrait, the distortion takes us beyond physical appearances to a psychological interpretation.


This exhibition shows just how much Bacon manipulated his source material, condensing the content, intensifying the figures and creating for them a new – and unsettling – stage or arena. And it is the structures that Bacon created on the canvas that is this show’s common theme. These framing devices are often in the form of cages and curtains, and they draw attention to the painted figure and our encounter with it.


Asked by the critic and curator David Sylvester about this technique of creating frames within frames, Bacon explained that he simply wanted to concentrate the image down. Much has been made, however, of the similarity between the cage in Study For A Portrait from 1949 and photographs from the Nuremberg trials, showing Nazi war criminals boxed behind glass.


Bacon was undeniably influenced by these events, and much of his work speaks of the violence and cruelty of mankind. ‘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,’ he said.


He also believed that humans were simply animals, subject to carnal desires, urges and fears, and his caging might therefore be seen as a direct reference to this bestial nature. Certainly it is captured in his gaping mouths, from which silent screams rage, and his distorted, grotesque bodies, sometimes carcasses, that writhe within these confines.


Invisible Rooms contains many well-known Bacon works. There are his terrifying paintings based on Velázquez’s Portrait Of Pope Innocent X, in which the subject sits, as if strapped into an electric chair, mouth wide open, so that his scream is almost audible. And his works relating to the Crucifixion, including Tate’s own ghoulish triptych, Three Studies For Figures At The Base Of A Crucifixion, from 1944, with its maimed, mutilated and bandaged figures, drained of colour and set against a bloody red background, are also included here.

There are pieces, too, from his Man In Blue series from 1954, thought to portray Bacon’s lover, Peter Lacy, in which a ghostly white presence drowns in a dark blue lake, imprisoned within bars, capturing the disembodiment, isolation and hopelessness of homosexuals in an era when same-sex relations were still illegal.


For fans of Bacon, this is a worthy exposition. While the premise of framing techniques might seem to be just a spurious excuse to bring together another mini-retrospective of an over-exposed painter, this exhibition does shed some light on the techniques of this nevertheless most mysterious and confounding of artists.


Tickets also permit entry to Tate Liverpool’s exhibition of work by Austrian painter Maria Lassnig.






The Visitors’ Book:


In Francis Bacon’s Shadow – boozing and mischief



Jon Lys Turner’s biography of Bacon’s closest friends, Richard Chopping and Denis Wirth-Miller,

offers an entertaining as well as painful study in hero-worship





If you spent any time going around with Francs Bacon, you were bound to come across Dicky Chopping and Denis Wirth-Miller. Bacon introduced them to me as early as 1963 as “the oldest queer couple in the land”, although they would go on living together in their quayside house in Wivenhoe, Essex, for more than another 40 years. A briefly successful book-illustrator and a frustrated minor painter respectively, Dicky and Denis were also Francis’s closest friends, partly because they managed to survive so many spectacularly drunken ups and downs in their relationship à trois.

From a young age, when I first witnessed their antics, I came to think of them fondly enough as errant uncles. Dicky was the more restrained of the two, being naturally less confrontational even when drunk. But Denis (known inevitably as “Denis the Menace”) was never content until he had exasperated everyone within earshot by shouting out one provocatively camp remark after another as he teetered from bar to restaurant, apparently feeling duty-bound to shock anyone bourgeois enough to be still shockable.

Tall and elegant, Dicky tended to withdraw into himself as the stockier Denis plunged manically into this act, his gestures growing ever wilder and his purplish face suffused with the gallons of wine he had put away. “He had a cock as hard as a steel hawser,” Denis would announce at random. “He was so in love with me that he wanted to lick caviar off the back of my throat,” he shouted. And any attempt to cut off his embarrassing tirades merely reassured him that his brilliance and originality were at last being acknowledged.

While Dicky looked ever more disapproving, Francis would slyly egg Denis on with acid little comments such as, “I don’t know who she thinks she’s going to impress with that nonsense” or, “the trouble is, Denis, you’re as coarse as those ghastly little paintings you do”. But then Francis would resent no longer being the centre of attention and lay viciously into him. Denis seemed to revel at first in this onslaught, but Francis was his idol, his central and absolute article of faith, and he grew so unnerved by these attacks that he would eventually kick over any chairs within reach and disappear melodramatically into the night.

I came to accept this kind of behaviour as the norm on nights out with Francis, who once defined friendship as “two people continuously pulling each other to pieces”. At times, Denis and Francis tore into each other with such wounding malice, going for the jugular with every remark, that I imagined they would never see each other again. But they soon returned to the fray as if they couldn’t live without the self-destructive passion of their fights.

Like other Bacon nuts, I imagine, I first raced through Jon Lys Turner’s book picking out all the choice Bacon bits, before reading the book properly as a whole. Right away I was fascinated, for instance, to find the description of an early punch-up between Denis and the art critic, David Sylvester, because I had witnessed an exact repeat, with Denis ending up with his nose broken once again, in the Colony Room club. Since he was their confidant and inherited Dicky and Denis’s personal archives, Lys Turner provides several nuggets of this kind, in particular extracts from the numerous letters that Francis sent to Denis and a variety of hitherto unseen photographs (although I have to say the photos published here of Francis’s boyfriend, George Dyer, don’t look much like the Dyer I knew).

What you find when you do read the book from cover to cover is very much what is announced in the subtitle. Despite their (sometimes enduring, often fleeting) contacts with other movers and shakers – from Frances Partridge and Randolph Churchill to Ian Fleming and John Gielgud – Dicky and Denis’s lives were indeed lived in Francis’s shadow, and that seething darkness seems to be where they themselves came most into their own, warts, disastrous boozing, camp mischief and all.

Much of what happened to Dicky and Denis outside Francis’s sphere of influence is mildly interesting as an adjunct to the main theme, illuminating minor episodes here and there of recent British cultural history. (Lys Turner’s title comes from the couple’s visitors’ book at their Essex townhouse.) But these accounts seem distinctly peripheral. Dicky’s painstaking illustrations for the James Bond novels, the couple’s fraught relationships with other gay men or their shared dislike of Lucian Freud are certainly not to be discounted, but they and the numerous other extraneous anecdotes would never amount to a book by themselves.

The central story here, the central tragedy one might say, is Denis’s obsession with Francis. While Dicky was too well balanced a character ever to fall wholly under Francis’s sway, Denis craved it. Francis, with his iron constitution, aristocratic self-belief and unpredictable genius for being both of and beyond his times, had a creative power and aura that Denis could only dream of. At the same time as living in Francis’s shadow, and to some extent because of that, Denis achieved a certain distinction as a painter of technically adept estuary landscapes, wind-flattened sedge and Muybridge-inspired dogs in headlong flight. But his images patently lack conviction, no doubt because (as Lys Turner emphasises) Denis himself chronically lacked self-confidence. He also worked on certain of Francis’s paintings with him, helping him to achieve more credible blades of grass or well-delineated feet, and thereby bolstering the illusion that he too was at the heart of creation.

But when, as Lys Turner recounts, Francis went careening round what was for Denis a crucial exhibition of his work, mocking every one of his pictures in sight, the poor man gave in completely to his self-doubt and decided there was no point in continuing to paint. Thenceforth, he would devote himself instead to drinking and outrageousness. As a direct consequence, in his declining, increasingly bitter and destitute years, Denis never recovered the sense of himself that he had painfully gained as an artist. I now understand much better why, when I called him to talk about Francis for the biography I was writing, he said: “I don’t want to talk about him ever again. He was an absolutely horrible man.” By then, Denis had found out that if anyone still bought his pictures, it was to scrape off the surface layer in the hope of finding a hidden work by Francis beneath. As Lys Turner says at the end of this moving and ultimately saddening account, Francis had in part created Denis, and in so doing he also destroyed him.




                                              Francis Bacon and Dicky Chopping










        ART IS ALIVE | SINCE 2007 | THURSDAY 14 JULY 2016




                                      Francis Bacon in Monte-Carlo in November 1981. © Eddy Batache



“Bacon’s single, most famous art-historical reference is probably that to Velàzquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X. But in fact his paintings were more directly inspired by French artists, or artists living in France – Degas, Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Picasso, Giacometti. Signs of this are visible across his oeuvre.” Martin Harrison, curator and editor of the Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné on the the most visible signs of French culture in Bacon’s work.

Francis Bacon, Monaco and French Culture presented at the Grimaldi Forum Monaco until 4 September 2016 explores the influence of French art and culture on the artist’s oeuvre. Based on an original idea by Martin Harrison, curator of the exhibition, the scenography by the Grimaldi Forum Design Office references the work of set designers Adolphe Appia and Edward Gordon Craig.

Major paintings from international collections, including Tate Britain and Centre Pompidou, are thematically displayed – The Human Body, The Portraits, Influences etc. – to demonstrate Bacon’s love-relationship with France and Monaco. The exhibition brings together sixty-six paintings by Bacon himself alongside works by leading artists who inspired him, including Picasso, Giacometti, and Léger.

Major loans from public collections around the world include Head VI (1949) from the Arts Council England, the extraordinary Fragment of a Crucifixion (1950, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven), and Pope I (1951, Aberdeen Art Gallery). Private collections were also asked for works, including the triptych, Studies of the Human Body (1970), Turning Figure (1962), and Portrait of a Man Walking Down Steps (1972), Bacon’s most poignant tribute to George Dyer, painted shortly after his death. Other highlights include two pictures from Bacon’s Van Gogh series. The works are on show in a corridor leading from “the Dark Cave” section of the show to a room devoted to the artist’s representation of the human body.

The exhibition includes – for the first time – Francis Bacon’s first work, Watercolour (1929, Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation) and Bacon’s last painting, completed in 1991, the never before-exhibited Study of a Bull (1991, Private Collection). Tate dedicated two retrospectives to the artist during his lifetime, in 1962 and 1985, but Francis Bacon regarded the retrospective at the Grand Palais in 1971 as the most significant of his career. This blue-chip exhibition certainly rivals with these retrospectives.








From Soho to sunshine:


the Francis Bacon you never knew



We know him as the doyen of dingy 1960s Soho.


But a major exhibition in Monaco reveals the British painter in a more Mediterranean light,

showing how he drew inspiration from the French Riviera. The editor of RA Magazine takes a visit.





When I used to think of Francis Bacon, I always imagined gloomy London interiors, the painter in his murky, messy Reece Mews studio, or propping up the bar in the smoke-filled Colony Room in Soho

But a significant show at Monaco’s Grimaldi Forum has drawn back the curtains on this dinge, shedding sunlight on Bacon and arguing for an alternative idea of the man: Francis the Francophile, who sojourned at every opportunity to Paris, Monaco and the French Riviera, absorbing ideas aplenty from French painting while he was at it

The argument pivots on a period in the late 1940s when Bacon moved to Monaco, during which he began a significant series of paintings of heads, including Head VI (1949). This is the earliest surviving of his “Pope” paintings – works that take Velazquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X(c.1650) in a decidedly existential direction. The purple-robed Pope sits – as if restrained – in a rudimentary cube, his mouth open in agony, his eyes, nose and upper face eradicated by downward daubs of black. On display in one of the exhibition’s opening spaces, it has a high-octane hellishness that is rarely matched in the works that follow

Bacon loved the region’s climate – it helped his chronic asthma – but also Monaco’s famed casino. “I became obsessed by the casino and I spent whole days there,” he told David Sylvester in 1966, “and there you could go in at ten o’clock in the morning and needn’t come out until about four o’clock the following morning….” It is tempting to extend gambling as a metaphor for Bacon’s art, to speculate that he took more risks than his contemporaries because of his love for a flutter. During his time in Monaco, Bacon first began painting on the unprimed side of the canvas; the story goes that he had lost all his cash at roulette, so instead of buying a new canvas he had to recycle the back of an old one, and realised he preferred the unprimed surface.

The artist’s relationship to Monaco is an obsession of Majid Boustany, a Lebanese-born property developer, art collector and philanthropist. With the blessing of the Bacon estate, Boustany has established the Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation in a Monégasque villa. The foundation supports research, events and exhibitions about the artist, including the Grimaldi Forum show, to which it has loaned the earliest surviving Bacon, Watercolour (1929).

This Cubist interior, displayed in a section entitled Inspirations, sees the 20-year-old Bacon drawing on the work De Chirico, Léger and Picasso. The latter’s work was “profoundly unillustrative but profoundly real about figures”, in Bacon’s words; in other rooms, one sees how brilliantly Bacon learned from Picasso to create his own signature style of biomorphism, in which men’s muscles are mangled or merged

A breathtaking example is triptych Studies of the Human Body (1970), painted for Bacon’s 1971 Grand Palais retrospective. The three oils are suspended away from the wall, so that the work appears to float in space in the same way as its subjects. Such bold exhibition design is one of the show’s great strengths. The cavernous Grimaldi Forum space, often used as a conference venue, has been a help and not a hindrance in this respect, allowing the curators to design walls and lighting around the requirements of the 66 Bacons.

But as I emerged into the summer sun, a question troubled me. If Head V is one of the 20th century’s most affecting images of anxiety, how could it be made in the benign world of the French Riviera? Excluding a rare Bacon seascape, little in the show is emblematic of the coast or the atmosphere of Southern France. The show, in this way, is an argument against the direct connection of a work of art and the place it is made – perhaps it was just distance and time that Bacon needed, and Monaco allowed him both.


Francis Bacon: Monaco and French Culture, Grimaldi Forum, Monaco, 2 July–2 September; the exhibition travels to the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, 30 September–8 January. An accompanying book, Francis Bacon: France and Monaco, edited by Martin Harrison, is co-published by Albin Michel and The Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation, in partnership with Heni Publishing, £35.00. Francis Bacon MB Foundation, Monaco +377 93 30 30 33, open by appointment.




                                                                                    Francis Bacon in Monaco, 1981





Art buyers are bringing home the Bacons and the Moores




Foreign collectors have been out shopping in London auction houses but there are still some bargains left





There wasn’t too much talk of Brexit or storm clouds at the Sotheby’s private view of Old Master paintings on Monday as collectors and society types drank Cuban cocktails under the gaze of Flemish madonnas.

The big London auction houses believe their markets are resilient as British buyers seek alternatives to mainstream investments and foreigners take advantage of cheap sterling. So, while commercial property funds were “gated”, gilt yields tumbled and parts of the stock market struggled, collectors have set a series of record prices in West End sales.

Helena Newman, the head of Impressionist & Modern Art for Sotheby’s, says it is striking that sales were strong shortly before and after the referendum vote. “London’s a global art hub and there’s no reason that shouldn’t continue.”

So what’s going on and what does it mean for ordinary collectors?

Strong at the top

Orlando Rock, the chairman of Christie’s, says: “There will always be people who look for opportunity in these sorts of times.”

In Christie’s Defining British Art sale on June 30 many sales went to international buyers who benefited from the currency fluctuations, which equate to a 10 per cent discount. Reclining Figure: Festival, a sculpture by Henry Moore, sold for a record £24.7 million. It was estimated at £15 to £20 million. World records were also set for works by Francis Bacon (£20.2 million), John Constable (£14 million) and Bridget Riley (£4.3 million).

What is most resilient?

“Quality will always win,” Mr Rock says. Bidding was strong for stand-out pieces across a range of periods and styles. Yet, he says, fashion is always a factor, and postwar and contemporary art sales have held up most consistently in recent years with prices strong for good pieces in the middle price range, as well as at the top-end.

The top of the art market is truly international and driven by super-rich individuals and institutions who can ride out economic crises. If the UK economy does suffer, the risk is it will hit the middle market in more categories because people will have less money to put away.

During Christie’s Classic Week, which continues until Wednesday, Mr Rock says it is encouraging that prices for Rembrandt prints and antiquities are holding up. These sell to ordinary (if well-heeled) collectors, rather than those who can spend millions of pounds a piece, so they are an interesting barometer. A self-portrait etching of Rembrandt with his wife Saskia sold for £37,500 — above its estimate of £15,000 to £25,000.

Despite the record sales, Mr Rock says that the Brexit vote could make it harder to find great works for sale. Long term, however, he says that less regulation and a removal of the 5 per cent import duty could be good for the market.





  How technology is changing the way we tackle art theft








          Spanish police arrested seven people in connection with the theft of five Francis Bacon paintings earlier this year, after photos of the works were traced to a specific camera



The recent news from Madrid of the arrests of seven people linked to the theft of five paintings by Francis Bacon has highlighted the role that technology can play in the fight against art crime.

When the Art Loss Register was contacted by an individual wishing to search a Bacon painting against our database of stolen and missing art, we quickly matched it to one of the stolen works. We then passed the information we had received straight on to the Spanish police.

It has now been revealed that the police were able to track down the digital camera that had taken the images, thus leading to the arrest of the person who took the photos and others.

Technology is proving an increasingly useful tool in tracking down stolen paintings. At the Art Loss Register, we have seen works of art searched against our database, the pictures of which were taken on a smartphone and therefore tagged with geolocation data. Possibly not the best way to keep hidden the stolen painting in your barn.

Information such as locations, or the model of camera that took the image, undoubtedly makes the lives of those investigating art crime much easier. But the greatest advantage of digital imaging that we have observed is simply how much easier it is for people to find photos of works that have been stolen from them, and then to circulate those photos to assist in the identification of the works should they reappear later on. Gone are the days of faxing images across the world and hoping that they are still vaguely recognisable at the other end.

It is not all positive though; technology is a double-edged sword and can benefit criminals too. High quality images make it much easier to rapidly create reproductions to hang in place of stolen art, meaning that thefts such as the nine Warhols found to be missing in LA last year can go undetected for years. Similarly, technology makes reconnaissance and the recording of targets easier and opens up new routes to carry out a theft. Hacking into the accounts of those shipping art, to change the destination so that art is delivered into the thief’s hands at an empty address, is now all too possible. By the time anyone notices the error, both the thieves and the art will be long gone, having left only an impenetrable signature with the courier. The worst case scenario (still, thankfully, hypothetical) might be someone hacking into a museum’s collection management system and altering records so that a picture that is stolen no longer shows up even on the museum’s inventory.

Ultimately technology simply provides a range of forensic tools. It then takes skill to establish their relevance of as part of the process of tracking down a stolen picture.

The Spanish police made good use of technology to find and arrest individuals who could be connected with the crime. But in the end the reason they were able to do so is just the same as ever. The best leads come from a criminal’s mistakes. In this case that was the mistake of using an identifiable camera, and failing to remove identifying information from the image files. Had this been done, or had they simply used a cheap digital camera bought with cash (they rented theirs), then they would have been a lot less likely to be caught. Technology moves on, but mistakes will always be made. In the case of these Bacons the question is whether this will ever lead to the pictures themselves, which appear still to be missing.





Francis Bacons Monaco magic is highlighted in a new exhibition






It’s not hard to see why the artist Francis Bacon should have been drawn to Monte Carlo, where he spent three years in the 1940s, and to which he returned repeatedly during the course of his life, staying in room 681 of the belle époque Hôtel Balmoral (now apartments). Long favoured by Britons seeking respite from the northern winter, its appeal to Bacon in post-war Europe was obvious. The sea air and sunny climate would keep his asthma at bay. The sparkling Côte d’Azur light would delight his eye. And there was the casino, with which he became, in his words, “obsessed” and where he would “spend whole days”.

Indeed it was gambling debts incurred in 1947 when he was living on what is now the Avenue Princesse Grace, and his consequent inability to afford new canvas, that first compelled him to recycle an existed work by painting on the raw, unprimed side, a practice he continued throughout his life. Back in London, he gambled at home with friends too on a roulette wheel now displayed in the final room of the Francis bacon MB Art Foundation in a 19th century villa at 21 Boulevard d’Italie, which opened (by appointment) to the public last year, and is one of a host of new gallery and exhibition spaces that have turned the principality into a near-ideal city-break destination for art lovers.




                                   Francis Bacon: Monaco and French Culture at the Grimaldi Forum Monaco



The Foundation is the creation of the Monaco-based Swiss-Lebanese property developer Majid Boustany, owner, with his brother, of the Jacques Garcia-designed Metropole, the most fashionable and alluring of the principality’s great grande-dame hotels. As a post-graduate student in the UK in the early 90s, he encountered Bacon’s triptych Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, now in Tate Britain, and had a kind of epiphany. “I knew then,” he told me over dinner at the hotel (where Joël Robuchon has oversight of the kitchens), “that I would be busy with Bacon my whole life.”

He began to collect, first lithographs and photographs (Bacon’s paintings do not come cheap; witness the version of Lying Figure with a Hypodermic Syringe, which was sold at Christie’s for £20m last week), then major works, as well as furniture - Bacon began as a designer of pieces very much in the vein of Eileen Gray or Charlotte Perriand. The collection also runs to books and other memorabilia, more than 2,500 items in total that range from his easel and the Carte Orange (or season ticket) he used on the Paris metro to the artist’s first known painting, an abstract watercolour from 1929 now on show, along with the triptych he first saw at Tate, in a major exhibition, Francis Bacon: Monaco and French Culture, at the Grimaldi Frum Monaco.

If the exhibition’s focus is essentially Bacon’s connection with France and Monaco – witness a rare seascape from 1950 and the outline of a distinctive local mountain in the top-left corner of Fragment of a Crucifixion (1953) – it works equally as an introduction to the life and work of an artist generally hailed the most important British painter of the modern age.

More than 60 major works from major international museums as well as 20 private collections never before seen in public hang alongside works by artists who influenced him: Giacometti, Léger, Muybridge, Picasso, Rodin and Toulouse-Lautrec, among them. To this end there are some quite surprising juxtapositions. In a room devoted to studies of the human form, Marie Laurencin’s 1924 portrait of Madame Paul Guillaume, which Bacon would have known, hangs opposite his Study for a Portrait of John Edwards, painted 60 years later. Both are striking for their use of pink. Look at them together, and suddenly Bacon’s genius as a colourist is evident.




                                    Francis Bacon: Monaco and French Culture at the Grimaldi Forum Monaco



The Grimaldi Forum was not designed to exhibit art, but in this instance its cavernous, windowless interior works to its advantage, not least for the sheer amount of space given over to this theatrically installed show. (The exhibition’s curator, Martin Harrison, author of the just-published Bacon catalogue raisonné, acknowledges a debt to the influence of the influential European stage designers Adolphe Appia (1862-1928) and Edward Gordon-Craig (1872-1966).) In several of the galleries the walls are hung with acres of rich velvet drapery in an appropriately papal purple. (It was in Monaco, it turns out, that Bacon painted the first of his homages to Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, a copy of which is hangs at the start of the show.) But as the show continues, more austere style prevails, with a sequence of great metal structures between and, in one instance, suspended above the galleries, commissioned to evoke the “cages” within which Bacon often enclosed his figures. There is another visual coup towards the end of the exhibition when one confronts the monumental Studies of the Human Body triptych from 1970, which appears to float free from the walls, so discreet are its fixings.

Even the lighting seems audacious. For the most part the paintings are dramatically spotlight both to focus attention and enhance the glitter of their gilt frames amid Stygian gloom. Enter the final room, however, where his final painting, Study of a Bull (1991) hangs alongside his 1987 corrida triptych, and suddenly you are out of the sombra and into the bright light of a Madrid bullring. The experience is exhilarating, the culmination of a show that is original, illuminating, immensely enjoyable and, I’d say, well worth the trip.

Francis Bacon: Monaco and French Culture at the Grimaldi Forum Monaco until 4th September, 10am to 8pm daily, admission €10












There have been some pretty prolific artistes cross the renowned orange threshold of TATE Liverpool and the bustling gallery is the gift that just keeps on giving, it seems. We’ve had Pollock, we’ve had Mondrian and of course, we’ve had wonderful Mr Warhol (just to name a few) but this summer TATE Liverpool is whetting our appetites with a taste of Francis Bacon. Definitely more of a three-course feast than a light lunch bite, the Invisible Rooms exhibition is a must-see event in the city this season and I was lucky enough to be invited to spend a Sunday afternoon strolling around the showcase.

The ticketed exhibition is made up of two solo exhibitions, throwing the spotlight on two of the 20th Century’s most influential artists: Maria Lassnig and Francis Bacon. I imagine the latter will need no introduction whatsoever but let me just begin by explaining that both of these artists had a particular interest in “staging the figure on canvas”. Both demonstrated a distinct preoccupation with war and a penchant for using the human body as a “nucleus” around which they centred their stylised pieces. While Lassnig favoured self-portraiture and Bacon preferred portraits of others, each was on a mission to express internal feelings and social influences by manipulation of space, illusion and the mere mortal.


The turmoil of Bacon’s subjects is almost audible

Now, neither of these artists are a sit-on-the-fence, meek-mannered kind of creative. Both Bacon and Lassnig were put on this planet to make a paint-based statement and this has been wholeheartedly celebrated throughout Invisible Rooms. Bacon’s work is known for it’s dark, macabre nature in terms of both message and aesthetic, which has been cleverly enhanced by the low-lit exhibition space itself. The Lassnig space is TATE-typical – a bright, airy blank canvas upon which her eclectic mix-bag of multimedia pieces are hung but as you pull back the heavy glass door into Bacon’s designated arena, the atmosphere takes on a much heavier dimension. After a quick glance around the space, the pain, turmoil and troubled mindset of his subjects are almost audible. You then inspect the extensive collection more specifically and I swear, they only get louder.

We are first greeted by Bacon’s famous Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, which is heavily symbolic as this is considered his breakthrough piece. As an open atheist, the crucifix motif provides no religious connotation and instead marked the beginning of Bacon’s signature architectural approach to framing his imagery. All of his subjects are quite literally trapped within geometric outlines and shapes, which is thought to be a direct response to the social struggles of wartime. As we all know, art is entirely subjective but no matter how you read these incredibly deep images, it can’t be denied that Bacon possessed a creative quality quite like no other.

From time to time, I have to admit that I am sometimes left with the feeling that the gallery hasn’t quite done the artist in questions justice to the full potential but you done good this time, TATE Liverpool. The Invisible Rooms exhibition is going to be there in all it’s beautifully gruesome glory until the 18th September so make sure to take a trip down to the Albert Dock to catch a glimpse. I can now confidently confirm that Francis Bacon’s work is best appreciated in the flesh so grab the chance while you can.

The Invisible Rooms Runs Until 18th September.




              Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne Standing in a Street in Soho, 1967





Francis Bacon’s great gambles  both in art and in the casino

on show in Monte Carlo



The artist regarded his losses on the roulette table as “an expense related to painting”







                         Francis Bacon in Monte-Carlo, November 1981. Photo: © Eddy Batache. 



A Bacon exhibition opening in Monte Carlo on Saturday 2 July reveals the close links between the artist’s obsessive gambling and his paintings. Both depended on chance. As Rebecca Daniels, a contributor to the Grimaldi Forum catalogue explains, so inextricably linked were gaming and art that Bacon regarded his losses on the roulette table as “an expense related to painting”. He once used this as an argument for his dealer to advance more money.

Francis Bacon loved the French Riviera, but what made Monaco particularly attractive was its gambling opportunities. He moved to the independent principality in 1946 and spent most of the next five years there, returning often up until his death in 1992. 

Bacon’s haunt was the Casino. He recalled: “I spent whole days there... you could go in at ten o’clock and needn’t come out until about four o’clock the following morning”. Bacon would quickly dispense any winnings on champagne and the finest food for friends. It was his symbol of living in the present. 

Among the paintings in the Grimaldi Forum show is Study for a Figure (1950), which includes a vaguely outlined circular object. This picture was assumed to have been lost, but in 2006 it was rediscovered on the reverse of a canvas. Lucian Freud then recalled having seen it in 1950, describing the circular object as a roulette wheel.
Bacon even owned his own roulette wheel, with which he would play with friends back in England. This relic of the artist’s tortured life has recently gone to Monaco, when it was purchased by Majid Boustany for his Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation.




      Bacon even owned his own roulette wheel, with which he would play with friends back in England.


Taking risks

Daniels believes that Bacon approached gambling and art with the same spirit, displaying a determination to take risks and allow chance to intervene. Bacon wrote that “the vice of gambling... is for me intimately linked with painting”. Clive Barker, a sculptor and a friend, recalled that Bacon would talk endlessly about how “chance” affected his paintings, with success or failure being likened to “the spin of a roulette wheel”. 

Bacon would persevere with a painting until it either became a masterpiece or a complete failure. When the gamble went wrong, he would simply destroy the work. The Grimaldi Forum exhibition presents 62 of Bacon’s paintings that relate to his visits to Monaco and France, showing his deep interest in French culture. These essentially represent the successes, but the artist also destroyed hundreds of pictures where his gamble had failed.

A failure of a different kind in Bacon’s early career was the idea to sell his work to the Casino. In 1946 he wrote to his friend Graham Sutherland: “I always feel with a little clever manipulation the Casino would buy our pictures”. They never did, and instead its magnificent Belle Epoque rooms are decorated with paintings of languorous females, who still today sooth the disappointments of the unlucky as they lose their chips. 

Just for this summer, Bacon’s work has returned to Monaco, at the Grimaldi Forum, a modern conference and exhibition centre a few minutes’ walk from the Casino. For anyone going to see the show, do go on to the Casino for its magnificent interiors and to imbibe the theatrical atmosphere of the gaming. To see Bacon’s roulette wheel, take a guided tour of the Francis Bacon MB Foundation with its artworks and memorabilia (advance booking required).

• Francis Bacon: Monaco and French Culture, Grimaldi Forum, Monaco, 2 July-4 September. 





   Was Francis Bacon made in Monaco?








                                 Francis Bacon in Nice, March, 1979



One evening in the late Eighties, I was walking down Brompton Road in South Kensington, when I saw a figure turning in the doorway of a late-night chemist. His face, caught in the neon glare, was pale and oddly ageless, and in the split-second that our eyes met I glimpsed an expression that was at once impassive and strangely haunted.

Francis Bacon, I thought, without breaking my stride.

Bacon, who must by then have been about 80, had lived in that area of London for decades, and was long since established as the greatest and most controversial British painter of the 20th century. Since his death in 1992, the Bacon industry has grown ever larger, leading to increasingly detailed speculation about both the meaning of his harrowing, morally ambivalent paintings, and his rackety private life in the gay clubs and seedy drinking dens of post-war London.

Yet there remain whole aspects of his life about which we know very little. Not least among them is the three-year period in the late Forties when Bacon lived in Monaco. This barely chronicled moment is the subject of a major new exhibition at the Grimaldi Forum in Monte Carlo: Francis Bacon, Monaco and French Culture.

“We know almost nothing about Bacon before 1960,” says Martin Harrison, curator of the exhibition and editor of the monumental catalogue raisonné of Bacon’s works that is being published concurrently. “But when you put the evidence together, you’re forced to the conclusion that Francis Bacon, as we understand him today, was formed in Monaco.”

Walking now through a somewhat antiseptic pedestrian precinct, just a couple of hundred yards from Monte Carlo’s famous casino, I’m struggling to imagine what might have drawn Bacon to this manicured, high-security tax haven. Gravity-defying highways course between well-appointed tower-blocks and the belle époque villas sprouting from the slopes of this Mediterranean principality. There’s the atmosphere of discretion and anonymity you’d expect of a place with the highest property prices in Europe, but there’s little in the way of street-life; the few restaurants and shops are expensive, but oddly characterless. What, beyond the casino – and Bacon was an inveterate gambler – could have attracted the great connoisseur of the more sordid aspects of metropolitan life to this strangely sterile place? Documents show that Bacon moved here from London in July 1946, setting up home in the Hôtel de Ré in an unlikely ménage à trois with his lover of the time, Eric Hall, and his nanny, Jessie Lightfoot, who had nursed him through childhood asthma and remained his closest companion until her death in 1951.

“The warm weather was good for his asthma,” says Harrison with a shrug. “He was an upper-class Englishman, and Monaco was where upper-class English people went.” He produces a letter from Bacon to his fellow artist Graham Sutherland, written shortly after his arrival here in 1946. “Bacon was 37, he’d destroyed almost everything he’d done up to that point. But here he is talking about what’s wrong with art at that time, with Picasso and all the French guys, about what we – by which he meant himself – must do in art. Up to that point he’s endlessly messed around, but here in Monaco he realised what his project was: to become the greatest artist of his time.”

Born in Dublin in 1909 to upper-class English parents, Bacon had a troubled relationship with his father, an army officer and racehorse trainer, who disapproved of his sensitive, “unmanly” second son. He may even have sexually abused him; a trauma that left Bacon, it has been speculated, with a lifelong yearning for a “cruel father” figure. Rather than going to art school or university, Bacon drifted between London, Paris and Berlin, eking out a tiny allowance from his mother with menial jobs, stints as a paid “gentleman’s companion” and bouts of shoplifting with Lightfoot.

In the late Twenties, he set himself up as a modernist interior designer, a role in which he had some success (despite his later claims to the contrary). Designing rugs led him to painting, and by the time of his move to Monaco he was established as an enfant terrible on London’s tiny avant-garde art scene. Indeed, he’d already created two of his defining works: the sinister Painting (1946), now in New York’s Museum of Modern Art, in which an ominous demagogic figure stands framed by two huge sides of meat, and Tate’s emblematic Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, with its howling mutant faces. Doesn’t that rather undermine the idea of “Francis Bacon” having been formed in Monaco?

“He knew he could do better than both those paintings. The MoMA Painting is interesting, but a bit of a mess,” says Harrison who, having spent 10 years on the catalogue raisonné, should know. “Three Figures is still heavily influenced by Picasso, and he arrived in Monaco with the intention of transcending that.”

The isolated figures and tortured surfaces of Bacon’s paintings have come to be seen as emblematic of the existential angst of post-war Europe, embodying the bleak residue left by the revelations of the Holocaust and the atom bomb. So it’s disconcerting to find him in the immediate aftermath of war not in chilly, bomb-ravaged austerity London, but in the relatively frivolous atmosphere of the Côte d’Azur. Monaco then must have been very different from what it is today: greener, less built-up, with much of its original elegance still intact – with more of a real sense, perhaps, of place. Bacon’s cultural and artistic tastes were resolutely Francophile; he was dismissive of almost all British art. But why did he move to Monaco, rather than the nearby and much livelier Nice, for example?

“He loved gambling and the casino in Monte Carlo is the most famous in the world,” says Harrison. “The Train Bleu, the sleeper from Paris, pulled in right beside the casino, and Bacon found trains, particularly night trains, sexy: you never knew who you would meet.”

Bacon recalled in an interview in 1962 that he became obsessed with Monte Carlo’s casino and spent whole days there at a time. “You could go in at 10 in the morning and needn’t come out till about four the following morning.”

Gambling appealed to his lifelong fascination with chance, in life and art, his sense of the cruel arbitrariness of existence. “He loved the exhilaration of roulette, staking everything on the spin of a wheel,” says Michael Peppiatt, who chronicled his 30-year friendship with the artist in the excellent memoir Francis Bacon in Your Blood. “He enjoyed it even when he lost. But he adored winning, of course, making an enormous amount of money through something so frivolous, then spending it all on champagne, taking people out to dinner and giving enormous tips.”

After one particularly big win, Bacon went home with a handsome stranger, the owner, he said, of a yacht moored in the marina. After his departure, the Monaco police descended on Bacon’s apartment in search of the man, who was wanted all along the Riviera. “Francis enjoyed that,” says Peppiatt. “Monaco was a place apart, and it attracted louche people who he found intriguing: con men, doctors who’d perform not quite legal operations, the old women who queued to get into the casino every morning.”

But Bacon can’t have spent four years solely on gambling. “He was very disciplined,” says Peppiatt. “He needed the regularity of getting up early and painting every morning before lunch. And that came easiest to him in London. He always said he found it difficult to paint in strong light, which is why he did very little painting in Tangier, which he also visited very frequently.” Peppiatt, indeed, is sceptical that Bacon did much significant painting in Monaco, or that he spent years there at a time. The fact that Bacon maintained a London residence throughout this period, but lived at five different Monaco addresses, might seem to corroborate that view. The expense of such a lifestyle would have been considerable even without losses at the gambling tables, though Bacon was bankrolled, to a degree at least, by his lover Hall. An art collector and a director of the Peter Jones department store, Hall remains a shadowy figure, though like many of Bacon’s early patron-lovers – “sugar daddies,” Harrison calls them – he was married with children.

For Bacon, gambling was a means of self-exploration to be pursued no less obsessively than painting. In his mind the two activities were so closely entwined that losses at the roulette table were seen as collateral damage to success at the easel. Writing to a London dealer in 1947, having sustained heavy losses at the Monte Carlo Casino, he requested the then hefty price of £750 for a triptych on the grounds that this was “not one quarter of what (the paintings) have cost me with gambling etc”.

In Monaco, Bacon, who in Peppiatt’s words “saw himself as a person apart”, found a place apart, where he could immerse himself in his twin preoccupations, in light that gave him, as he wrote to his friend Sir Colin Anderson, the sense “of being on the edge of the real mystery”, yet where equally, as he told Graham Sutherland, “nobody is at all interested in ART, which is perhaps a comfort”. The private side of Bacon’s personality, which wouldn’t allow anyone to see him working, found in the principality a sense of energising detachment, an atmosphere which, as he told the critic David Sylvester years later, was “very good for pictures falling ready-made into the mind”.

The few surviving Monaco works illustrated in the catalogue raisonné are unresolved, though he is understood to have destroyed many others. Yet the stamp of a Nice framer on the back of the ferocious and unnerving Head II reveals that important work was done here. One of two paintings showing a chimpanzee’s bared teeth merging with a man’s head, it is so thickly impasted it was described by Bacon as “like rhino hide”. The companion work Head I contains the rudiments of an ornate chair or throne, suggesting it may have started out as one of the earliest of the reworkings of Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X that are among Bacon’s greatest works.

Bacon had painted the first of his “Popes” (Landscape with Pope/Dictator) shortly after his arrival in Monaco, a work reproduced for the first time in the catalogue raisonné. If it barely hints at the extraordinary things Bacon was to do with this image over the following decades, it nevertheless embodies the conflicts between spontaneity and order, brutality and impassivity, that were at the root of Bacon’s art and personality. “He was debonair and sophisticated,” says Peppiatt. “He could be very charming, extremely generous and great fun to be with. But there was also a treacherous and destructive side to his personality, something diabolical. He pushed himself to the limits, and he pushed others to the limits too. You only have to look at the various suicides around him.”

These included his lover George Dyer, who killed himself in 1971, and Peter Lacy, considered the great love of Bacon’s life – his ultimate “cruel father” figure – who drank himself to death. If the latter wasn’t a suicide as such, Bacon, as Peppiatt observes, “certainly framed it as that in his own mind”. Lacy died in 1962, the year of Bacon’s breakthrough retrospective at the Tate, which also saw the beginning of the famous interviews with David Sylvester in which the artist consolidated the story of his life as he wished it be known – “the myth”, as Harrison puts it. “Before that it was all much less formal, wilder and more dangerous. But as Bacon didn’t keep diaries or records of any kind it’s hard to piece it together.” Bacon’s early years, not least his unlikely Monaco sojourn, are likely to remain a mystery.

Francis Bacon, Monaco and French Culture is at the Grimaldi Forum, Monaco until Sep 4.

The accompanying book, Francis Bacon: France and Monaco, ed. Martin Harrison, is published by Albin Michel at £35




                                                                                                  Francis Bacon, Monaco and French Culture, July1st, 2016






Francis Bacon at The Grimaldi Forum Forces a Complete Reappraisal of his Work






Exactly as the title suggests “Francis Bacon: Monaco and French Culture” the exhibition at The Grimaldi Forum focuses on the extraordinary influence of French culture on Bacon’s  practice. The artist was immediately taken by France after he first visited Paris at the end of the 1920s, and so began a long love affair with the country, which culminated in what he considered to be his greatest achievement—his retrospective at the Grand Palais in 1971. An exhibition only once before bestowed on a living artist (Picasso), and an honor he cherished despite being awarded two Tate retrospectives in 1962 and 1985

The exhibition is curated by Martin Harrison, the author of the recently published Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné, 2016. The curator’s ten-year research is incredibly in depth and he masterfully brings to the fore Bacon’s influences and sheds new light on the artist’s oeuvre—who would have thought, for instance, that Bacon was so moved by works by Van Gogh that he painted portraits of him in his signature style in 1957?

Harrison brings together famous triptychs as well as less renowned works, which are displayed thematically, highlighting the relationship between his work and France and Monaco. More than 66 paintings by the artist have been collected for the exhibition as well as works by Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, Auguste Rodin, and Chaim Soutine, which have all been cross-referenced with Bacon’s paintings. Many of the works by Bacon have never been exhibited before, including one of his last ever paintings, For Study of a Bull, 1991.

All in all this is a thrilling new take on the artist who has always been linked with the decadent streets and pubs of Soho, London. But perhaps this should not come as such a shock as the only Francis Bacon Foundation in the world is actually established in Monaco. It has often been remarked that one of Monaco and Monte Carlo’s biggest attractions for Bacon were the casinos. On his gambling obsession Bacon once remarked in an interview in 1962 that he would often visit them “at 10 in the morning and needn’t come out till about four the following morning.

More than anything the exhibition sheds light on Bacon before 1960, a period that “we know almost nothing about”, according to Martin Harrison. “But when you put the evidence together, you’re forced to the conclusion that Francis Bacon, as we understand him today, was formed in Monaco.

The Exhibition “Francis Bacon: Monaco and French Culture” runs from the 2nd of July through to the 4th of September 2016





                      Left: Francis Bacon in Monte-Carlo, November, 1981.                                                                  Right: Francis Bacon in Vaux-Le-Vicomte, December, 1977






London Art Market Rides Out Brexit, Sets records As Pound Drops






London’s art market was whipsawed like the financial world during the two weeks of auctions surrounding Britain’s historic vote to leave the European Union.

Uncertainty leading up to the June 23 referendum left some sellers hesitating to part with holdings. The political and economic volatility that followed voters’ shock decision, with the pound plunging the next day and Prime Minister David Cameron resigning, disrupted some sales but spurred more.

Held a week after the U.K. voted, the event shrugged off volatility, selling all but four of the 31 offered works. Two scheduled lots were withdrawn.

Titled “Defining British Art,” it was estimated at 95.7 million pounds to 138 million pounds, a significantly higher target than Christie’s two preceding evening sales of Impressionist, modern, postwar and contemporary art, combined.

Francis Bacon’s 1968 Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe drew two bidders and sold for 20.2 million pounds, as estimated. The work was being resold after 10 years; it had been purchased for $15 million in 2006 at Sotheby’s.




                       Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe






Francis Bacon Retrospective at the Grimaldi Forum






For all of its imagined glamour, Monaco doesn’t offer much in terms of art galleries or institutions. Secondary market work does find its way into tiny storefronts (dwarfed by the incessant number of real estate and private yacht sales firms), but the principality doesn’t have a national or state-owned art collection open to the public. So its surprising that one of, if not the, most comprehensive exhibitions by an institutionally-adored artist is posited in the tiny city-state.

Francis Bacon: Monaco and French Culture reads like a “Bacon For Dummies” class. It is curated by Bacon’s longtime friend and art historian Martin Harrison and will travel to the Guggenheim Bilbao in September, where the focus will shift towards the artist’s relationship with Spain as a cultural haven. It is presented chronologically, from his first documented work in 1929 to a never-before seen work (among his last) in 1991. Bacon’s canvases are interspersed with candid photographs of him, his family, his entourage and, in rare glimpses, his tortured lovers. His movement from abstraction to figurative studies is perceivable to the naked eye. Had you never encountered Bacon before, this exhibition would be your cheat sheet. Each wall text enhances obvious visual parallels Bacon created between his works and those of Tolouse-Lautrec, Soutine, Guilllame and Velásquez. How about some extra credit? Original works from the aforementioned artists are all placed alongside their respective Bacon counterparts.

Initiating a new audience to Bacon and contextualising his complex relationships with those around him seem to be the primary objectives of this exercise. Harrison appears to have taken no risks in the show’s physical presentation or its intellectual thesis. The viewer is meant to proverbially “pay homage” to the major works on display; often hung in complete isolation, dimly lit from above, and in the case of Studies of the Human Body (1970), possessing a sweeping circular mini-stairway leading up to the “altar” where the work hangs. A strategically-placed bench in front permits further adoration, and in one eerie moment I swore that the overhead lights just ever-so-slightly swung to and fro over the triptych; the drama exponentially heightened.

I had been taught to be aware (and wary) of this kind of exultation of contemporary art, in that regression is inevitably triggered; if Duchamp aimed to destroy the “ghost in the machine” of art, signifying that art was nominal and not wedded to history or religion, then this exhibition would have been his worst nightmare. But, if an exhibition can serve as a teaching device or a bridge to the general public, rather than a repeated gesture of condescension in expecting that its viewers immediately apprehend all subject and context related to what’s on view, then it can be successful, too. This thoroughly-researched exhibition was the latter. It was “textbook”, but inspired. It was visually “predictable”, but no less breathtaking in scope and scale.

It didn’t matter that French culture or Monaco wasn’t blatantly advertised, because when you’re presented with some of Francis Bacon’s most outstanding works in tandem with Impressionist gems, none of the lofty preoccupations of the “art world” seem to take hold. Hands-down, this was Bacon at his best.

Francis Bacon: Monaco and French Culture opened at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco on 2 July and runs until 4 September.

 It travels to the Guggenheim Bilbao from September 2016 to January 2017, where the focus will switch to Bacon’s relationship to Spain and Spanish culture.




     Francis Bacon Fragment of a Crucifixion, 1950 Oil and cotton wool on canvas 158,4 x 127,4 cm






Skin, body, self:



the question of the abject in the work of Francis Bacon



Ernst van Alphen, Abject Visions, Manchester University Press, July 2016




Ernst van Alphen’s essay is a synoptic study of abjection in the context of Francis Bacon’s art: it investigates the various ways and senses in which Bacon’s art can be described as abject. On the face of it, Bacon’s paintings are abject but this appearance needs to be probed further to examine the significance of the boundary between matter and representation, for instance, and of his figures themselves which are fragmented and which demonstrate various positions of subjecthood at risk. Calling on the work of theorists including Mikhail Bakhtin and Roland Barthes, van Alphen explores the identity of the Baconian figure and argues for a fresh way of thinking about the abject condition of Bacon’s figures. A further area of study in his essay draws on Hal Foster’s work and concerns how the viewer is provoked to complete the operation of the abject, which results in a reshattering of the viewer’s sense of self. Van Alphen’s study shows how abjection can be used to elicit a host of other Baconian themes about representation, viewing and identity.


Based on a common sense understanding of the abject and of abject art – which I will complicate later – the paintings of Francis Bacon can easily be understood as abject. The effect of the abject on the viewer is usually seen as discomfort, repulsion or even nausea. This is an aesthetic judgment. To many viewers Bacon’s work is repulsive or frightening, which could imply that his paintings are abject. His works have, however, other characteristics, themselves of an aesthetic nature, that complicate such a judgment. To begin with, his paintings always have a vertical format, and the figures in his paintings are usually represented vertically; they are standing or sitting. This vertical format mirrors the viewer’s own bodily dimension. It functions as a Gestalt, ‘a whole body from the outlines of which nothing is missing’ (Krauss, 1997: 240). This counters a consideration of Bacon’s work as abject. But, of course, and in support of the position that his work is abject, it is precisely the wholeness of Bacon’s figures that is under siege. His figures are losing their contours; it is as if their bodies dissolve into the space that surrounds them.

Other elements support these paintings and their figures to function as perfect Gestalt, however. Bacon was very outspoken about how he wanted his works to be shown. He wanted his paintings to be covered by glass. To hide paintings by glass is a kind of curse in the art world. It is only done in the case of extremely valuable paintings, which need to be protected, as required by the insurance. But Bacon thought that his paintings looked best when they were covered by glass. Te glass in front of the painting tends to mirror the viewer’s body. It is as if the paintings’ potential functioning as a Gestalt for the viewer is emphasised, or made easier. The viewer has difficulty seeing the painting as paint. Te glass dissolves the materiality of paint and what can be recognised is only the represented figure and space. It is only after some effort, after the viewer has positioned herself at the right spot and angle, that she can look through the glass and see the skin of the figure as well as of the paint.

But this Gestalt effect, too, is reversed. It is the skin of the represented figure as well as of the paint that undermines, in turn, the functioning of Bacon’s paintings as Gestalt. Whereas the spaces in which the figures are located are usually painted in fat, uniform paint, the figures are tooled and worked on. Bacon often used all kind of tools to belabour not the surface of the whole painting, but just that of the figures. As a result the skin of the paint as well as of the represented figure becomes ambiguous. The distinction between the two can no longer be made. The materialities of paint and of the represented body are undiferentiable. The fact that the boundary between matter and representation has been crossed produces yet again the affect of abjection.

So far, the works’ leaning towards the abject after all, is based on a somewhat simple notion of what abject is. In order to assess if Bacon’s work is a prime example of the abject or not, we first have to understand what the abject entails more precisely. Julia Kristeva’s notion of the abject developed in her book Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection has been the most influential, so I will discuss hers (Kristeva, 1982). The abject is what the subject-in becoming must get rid of in order to become an I. According to Kristeva the protection of the boundaries of the body is the main function of abjection. The anxieties triggered by the abject are first of all anxieties resulting from the end-products and by-products of the body, such as body fluids, blood, urine and faecal matter. What defines these end- or by-products of the body is that they are neither subject nor object. They embody the transition between the body and what is outside it. Although we treat them as objects outside of us, they were once inside or part of our body but we got rid of them. And while we distance ourselves from these bodily discharges they remain a constant threat to a consistent body identity. It is through socialisation that we learn to mark the boundaries of our self. By removing waste and creating a clean, obedient body we safeguard these boundaries. This happens at the cost of, or thanks to, abjection.

According to Kristeva, abjection can be traced back to the first rejection, that is, to the separation from the mother helping her baby to establish him/ herself in the symbolic order. Abjection preserves some of that pre-objectal relationship and some of the ambivalence that is experienced by the subject when it becomes an independent body separated from the mother. Kristeva’s psychological notion of the abject has, however, social ramifications and has been developed further into a theory of abjection. Abjection, no longer referring to an ambiguous object but to a process or activity, refers to cultural mechanisms that exclude certain groups of people or individuals by stigmatising them with loathing. Xenophobia is usually fuelled by abjection. But not only foreigners, also other marginalised groups within a society are often considered to be ugly, dirty or frightening, which evoke aversive responses in the rest of that society. Homophobia, racism, sexism and ageism are also structured by the mechanism of abjection. Subjects react to the abject with repulsion and loathing in order to restore the border separating self and other. Te other is ‘abjected’ from the self, because the abject is seen as not respecting borders, rules and positions of a society. These abject others are not only abjected by means of exclusionary mechanisms but they are simultaneously needed and produced by societies. This is so because subjects are formed by the exclusion of what they are not. In the words of Judith Butler: ‘the subject is constituted through the force of exclusion and abjection, one which produces a constitutive outside to the subject, an abjected outside, which is after all, “inside” the subject as its own founding repudiation’ (Butler, 1993: 3).

This short account of the abject and abjection reveals a slippage between the condition to be abject and the operation of abjection, in other words, to abject. In Hal Foster’s words: ‘To abject is to expel, to separate; to be abject, on the other hand is to be repulsive, stuck, subject enough only to feel this subjecthood at risk’ (Foster, 1996: 156). This distinction makes clear that the work of Francis Bacon has little to do with abjection, even though it can possibly be understood in terms of the condition of being abject. For, it is clear that the figures in his paintings demonstrate subjecthood at risk. Bacon is then representing figures from the experience of having no boundaries, that is, from the position of being abject. Especially in the 1980s and 1990s, not long after Bacon had become one of the most prominent international artists, the abject became an important notion in the understanding of contemporary artworks. Foster has argued that abject art of those days has tended in two directions:

The first is to identify with the abject, to approach it somehow – to probe the wound of trauma, to touch the obscene object-gaze of the real. The second is to represent the condition of abjection in order to provoke its operation – to catch abjection in the act, to make it reflexive, even repellent in its own right. (Foster, 1996: 157)

An example of the second direction is the work of Andres Serrano, whose Piss Christ (1987) represents the condition of abjection, provoking evangelical senators like Jesse Helms to complete the work of abjection negatively. The first direction, identification with the abject, has developed, according to Foster, a division of labour according to gender. Artists who probe the maternal body repressed by the paternal law tend to be women. Examples are Kiki Smith, Maureen Connor, Rona Pondick and Cindy Sherman (after her turn to the grotesque in the mid-1980s). Artists who assume an infantilist position to mock the paternal law tend to be men. Examples include Mike Kelley, John Miller and Paul McCarthy (Foster, 1996: 159). In spite of this difference, the art objects of both female and male artists embody the abject and the feelings raised by the abject such as loathing or disgust. Those feelings are imposed on the viewer.

Francis Bacon is not part of this generation of artists from the 1980s and 1990s obsessed with the abject and abjection. And, although some viewers consider his works as horrifying and repulsive, it is not so evident that the feelings raised by the abject are imposed on Bacon’s viewers. In the introduction to my argument I pointed out how Bacon’s work functions in some respects as Gestalt of and for viewers, which opposes the possibility that abject feelings are imposed on them. Perhaps we should make a more precise distinction between horrifying and repulsive: the fact that the tormented look of many of Bacon’s figures can be horrifying does not imply that they are repulsive in the way the abject can be. If the viewer is horrified by his figures, this affect is not the result of the sight of something abject, but rather of identification with figures who experience themselves as abject, in the sense that their subjectivities are at risk. For the viewer, Bacon’s figures are not an abjected outside, or abjected others, but they represent an abjected condition viewers can identity with. This identification is stimulated, rather than undermined, by their Gestalt form.

This is a problematic statement because identification is in many ways the opposite of horror or repulsion. How is it possible that the viewer will identify with figures who look horrifying or repulsive; in other words, what kind of sinister case of identification is this? What is the point of identifying with figures that seem to lose their self and whose subjectivities are in the process of dissolution? This identification is not only remarkable in its target, but is also qualitatively different from the common understanding of identification. But as Kaja Silverman has argued, identification takes one of two forms (Silverman, 1996). One form involves taking the other into the self on the basis of a (projected) likeness, so that the other ‘becomes’ or ‘becomes like’ the self. Features that are similar are enhanced in the process; features that remain irreducibly other are cast aside or ignored. Silverman calls this idiopathic identification. Te other form is heteropathic. Here, the self doing the identification takes the risk of – temporarily and partially – ‘becoming’ (like) the other. This is both exciting and risky, enriching and dangerous, but at any rate, affectively powerful. This distinction can help to get more clarity about the relation between Bacon’s paintings and the abject. When the viewer of Bacon’s work identifies with figures that experience themselves as abject, the kind of identification that is at stake is heteropathic identification. Te viewer takes the risk of temporarily and partially putting her or his subjectivity at risk. 

If the viewer of Bacon’s paintings identifies (or not) with figures from the position or experience of being abjected and as a result having no clear boundaries, we must assess how this dissolution of boundaries in Bacon’s paintings is realised. As remarked earlier, this dissolution concerns the skin of the represented figures as well as of the paint. In the former case we remain within the representational domain: it is as if the figures dissolve or fall apart within the represented space that surrounds them. In the latter case the materiality of the paint and that of the represented body become nondiferentiable. The boundary between matter and representation is being blurred, or crossed. A good example of such boundary crossing can be found in the triptych Tree Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards (1984). As the title announces, we see Bacon’s friend John Edwards on each panel, sitting on a stool, but from different angles: the left hand panel from the right, the middle panel frontally, and the right hand panel from the left. The space in which Edwards is located is ambiguous: it can be an empty room, but the curved edge between wall and floor also suggests that it is open space. The curved line is then an allusion to the horizon of an open landscape. The space in which the three figures are represented is painted in thin paint, covering the canvas with homogeneous colour fields.

The figures are in sharp contrast with the space that surrounds them, especially their faces. The three figures are not just representations. We notice how they are built, constituted by paint, hence, matter. The paint is sometimes wiped or whisked away. This belabouring of the paint does not result in a representational illusion. It does not transform the paint into representation; the paint remains matter. The skin of the face of all three figures is covered with regular stripes, usually pink but also in dark grey, almost black. These stripes look like footprints, the sole consisting of a striped pattern. The patterned surface of the figures’ skin can also be the result of a kitchen tool used for the treatment of meat. Whatever the tool has been that Bacon has used for making this striped pattern on the face of the three figures, the pattern never crosses the border of matter to representation. It remains paint.

This example demonstrates the importance of skin in Bacon’s work. Bacon’s notion of skin is grounded in a phenomenological and psychoanalytical view of skin, although not limited to such a view. I invoke this view to complicate the standard conception of abjection. French psychoanalyst Didier Anzieu explains this view in his book The Skin Ego: A Psychoanalytic Approach of Te Self (1989). According to Anzieu the skin serves the purposes of containment, protection and communication:

The primary function of the skin is as the sac which contains and retains inside it the goodness and fullness accumulating there through feeding, care, the bathing in words. Its second function is as the interface which marks the boundary with the outside and keeps that outside out; it is the barrier which protects against penetration by the aggression and greed emanating from others, whether people or objects. Finally, the third function – which the skin shares with the mouth and which it performs at least as often – is as a site and a primary means of communication with others, of establishing signifying relations; it is moreover, an ‘inscribing surface’ for the marks left by those others. (Anzieu, 1989: 40)

Anzieu is not speaking of the physical properties of the skin but of the metaphoric qualities of flesh. His concept of ‘skin ego’ articulates this beautifully. By ‘Skin Ego’, Anzieu explains, ‘I mean a mental image of which the Ego of the child makes use during the early phases of its development to represent itself as an Ego containing psychic contents, on the basis of its experience of the surface of the body’ (Anzieu, 1989: 40). The skin’s functions of containment, protection and communication are the result of a dual process of interiorisation. Two spatial aspects of the skin need to be internalised. First of all, the subject needs to internalise the interface between the bodies of the child and the mothering figure (what Anzieu calls the ‘psychic envelope’), and second, the mothering environment itself with all its verbal, visual, and emotional properties. Anzieu articulates this concept of skin ego and this dual interface by means of the somewhat odd word combination ‘the goodness and fullness accumulating there through feeding, care, the bathing in words’.

Clearly, this psychoanalytic notion of skin is closely related to Kristeva’s psychoanalytic notion of the abject. They presuppose each other. The skin’s functions of containment and protection can only be realised by means of exclusion and abjection of that which threatens the safety of this bodily and psychic envelope. This view of a psychoanalyst can surely not be unproblematically brought to bear on works of art. But to the extent that it represents a philosophical conception as well, it can be brought into dialogue with art. And that is exactly what happens here, so that Bacon, not Anzieu or Kristeva, complicates the notion of abjection. I contend that Bacon’s work engages a dialogue with this rich conception of skin. The artist’s work ‘on the skin’ seems to propose a notion of the subject, which is not ‘contained’ to use Anzieu’s term, nor does it need abjection in order to establish its borders. The condition of the abject is not seen as repulsive, but as a mechanism that is needed for maintaining ‘open borders’ between self and (abjected) other. This assessment implies a paradoxical re-evaluation of the abject. When the skin is not the body’s envelop, then skin and body can no longer adequately be distinguished from each other. Body and skin permeate and sink into each other. This seems to be the condition of most of Bacon’s figures. Elsewhere, I have explained the relationship between body and self of Bacon’s figures by the difference between the form in which a human subject experiences her or his body and the way it is perceived by others.1 Simply stated, one does not see oneself as one is seen by others. While others see the subject’s body as object and as whole, the subject has only inner experiences or fragmented views of her or his body. This view complicates Kristeva’s notion of the abject. Within her theory body and self are seen as self-sufficient. She does not take the visual dimension of existence into account. Instead, by means of the mechanism of abjection the subject is itself able to maintain and safeguard its wholeness and borders. In this alternative view, inspired by the ideas of Mikhail Bakhtin and Roland Barthes, the relationship between self and other is a new element, and so is its visual dimension. As Bakhtin writes:

The body is not something self-sufficient: it needs the other, needs his recognition and form-giving activity. Only the inner body (the body experienced as heavy) is given to a human being himself; the other’s outer body is not given but set as a task: I must actively produce it. (Bakhtin, 1990: 51)

Others create an external shape and form for the string of inner sensations of self: they create a perception of the body as ‘whole’.

If we look at Bacon’s images in light of this understanding of the self/other relationship, it becomes immediately clear that the subjects/figures in Bacon’s paintings are all represented as trapped in a solely inner sensation of self. Again and again we see bodies as series of fragments, dangling on the string of the inner sensation of self. Bacon’s subjects seem to lack the wholeness the self-other relationship would produce. This lack is particularly strongly fore-grounded in Tree Studies for Portraits including Self-Portrait, 1969 (Figure 6). While in most cases the fragmented bodies are clearly distinguishable from the space that encircles them, in the three panels of this triptych it is not exactly clear where the body ends. The faces are fragmented in such a way that we cannot decide whether the formless appendices belong to the subjects’ faces or not. Even in the middle and left panel, in which the appendices are directly contiguous with their faces, diferentiating the subject from its context is not easy. Subject and non-subject become one visual field constructed upon contiguity, making it impossible to speak of a subject or self.

Similarly, although in a less radical manner, the faces in Studies of George Dyer and Isabel Rawsthorne, 1970 (Figure 7) are not clearly delineated. This painting, belonging to the genre of the diptych that Bacon practised less frequently, shows two figures facing each other. Bacon makes here ironic use of a genre in which husband and wife, facing each other, are traditionally represented to preserve for posterity the identity of the bourgeois couple in early capitalist Europe. While in the conventional couple each partner derives his or her identity from the allegiance to the figure they face, in Bacon’s diptych the visual relationship is not defining but undoing the characters. Facing each other with blind eyes, these figures seem to lose their boundaries from the confrontation. Dyer’s face is extended by a strange pointed element that seems to be reaching toward Rawsthorne; she, on the other hand, displays one of the characteristic substantial shadows, characteristic because occurring in Bacon’s work almost systematically.2 Here, again, Bacon’s representation of the inner experience of self ends up deconstructing the idea of self: if there is only an inner-self there is in fact no self at all.

If we try to describe these two examples of Bacon’s work in light of the abject and abjection, the only way is then to contend that Bacon has represented the figures from the position of being abject, from the experience of having no boundaries. The question is then if we should consider this as a negative or a positive experience. The conventional idea of the abject would suggest it to be negative, because subjectivity depends on boundaries, distinctions and differences. I will argue, however, that Bacon’s figures do not suffer from their loss or lack of self. Their abject condition is privileged above the wholeness of a contained self.

In order to make this argument I will first provide another dimension to Bakhtin’s account of self-other relationship by adding the one of Roland Barthes. In the case of Barthes self-other relationships are not seen as form-bestowing, as in Bakhtin’s account of these relations, but rather as the cause of the loss of self. At first sight Barthes’ view of the self-other relationship is very similar to the early Bakhtinian position.3 In both accounts the subject’s experience of self is determined by the position of her body in the world and by the very limited perspective she has on her body. In both stories about the creation of self the other has a strong hold over the subject through her ability to represent the body of the subject, an ability the subject herself lacks. While in Bakhtin’s account, however, this relationship of dependence on the other is sweet, loving and desirable, in Barthes’ account the subject is sentenced to this dependence.

In Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes (notice, in this title, Barthes’ effort not to be defined, represented by the other: par Roland Barthes) he expresses the pain of this dependence: ‘You are the only one who can never see yourself except as an image …: even and especially for your body, you are condemned to the repertoire of its images’ (Barthes, 1975: 82).

In Camera Lucida he even describes the dependence on the form-bestowing relation with the other as mortifying: ‘I feel that the photograph creates my body or mortifies it, according to its caprice’ (Barthes, 1982: 11). In Barthes’ view the objectification of the subject is not the work of another individual subject. For him the other is discursive. The objectification of the subject that bestows on her or him the experience of wholeness is a discursive transformation that translates the subject into the terms of the doxa, the already-said, the platitudes of public opinion (Jeferson, 1989: 170). The dependence on the other to achieve wholeness is unbearable for Barthes, because

it is through the other that the subject falls prey to a representation that constructs him in terms of the stereotype. The Barthesian subject is alienated not merely by becoming an image in the eyes of the other but through this assimilation into the doxa. (Jeferson, 1989: 170)

There is no longer a question of a loving and shaping self-other relationships, but of a grim conflict between discourses.

The only thing the subject can do in order to fight the mortifying images of the doxa is to try to undo the objectification and mortification of the self through the practice of writing or representing. But the assertion of an alternative discourse that would be her or his own is impossible because the subject cannot avoid using the elements of the discourse which preceded it to build up a ‘private’ one. Even behind a very particular style or discourse, developed by the subject itself, the doxa will be lurking. Only the practice of representation as an ongoing bodily activity with no special object as its goal besides this movement, succeeds in destabilising the objectifying transformations of the other, of discourse: ‘In this practice the body’s relationship to language is altered from being the object of its representation to becoming the support and condition of a certain linguistic activity’ (Jeferson, 1989: 170). Instead of allowing the doxa to objectify the body, Barthes proposes to keep the body in a movement that asserts its resistance against, even if through the use of, the doxa. This movement re-subjectifies the body, thus escaping total colonisation through full awareness of the dependence on the discourses of the other

Barthes’ account of the self-other relationship as a conflict between discourses makes it possible to reconsider Bacon’s paintings as so many efforts to unsettle representations of the self (of the body) that mortify any experience of the self. In his interviews with David Sylvester Bacon’s incessant emphasis on the need for distortion in order to represent the ‘real’ appearance of somebody can be understood as a fight against stereotypical representations of the body:

FB: What I want to do is to distort the thing far beyond the appearance, but in the distortion to bring it back to a recording of the appearance. DS: Are you saying that painting is almost a way of bringing somebody back, that the process of painting is almost like the process of recalling? FB: I am saying it. And I think that the methods by which this is done are so artificial that the model before you, in my case, inhibits the artificiality by which this thing can be brought back. (Sylvester, 1987: 40)

It seems that Bacon wants to represent the self of a subject without the mediating, form-bestowing role of the perspective that the other, here meaning discourse, offers. His remarks about the effect on the viewers he strives for, and very incessantly too, shows that he aims for the opposite of an objectifying discourse: ‘It’s an attempt to bring the figurative thing up onto the nervous system more violently and more poignantly’ (Sylvester, 1987: 12).

His paintings try to avoid offering the objectifying, healing effect that makes the onlooker’s self feel whole; instead his images should evoke a violent, direct response in the onlooker.

The gaze of the other, represented, embodied in the image, is not allowed by Bacon to offer an image of the subject’s self as whole. The presented image should cling to the fragmentation and shatteredness that the subject previously knows as inner-self experience. By calling on the nervous system, Bacon tries to fragment again the experience of self in order to ‘re-call’, ‘bring back’ the real ‘appearance’ of a subject. And that real appearance is the condition that people have called abject because it is lacking in boundaries. And like Serrano who provokes evangelical senators like Jesse Helms to complete the work of abjection negatively, Bacon provokes his viewer to complete the mechanism of the abject. He re-shatters the viewer’s sense of self by refusing to offer the projections of whole bodies that enable the onlooker to experience her- or himself as whole.

This refusal manifests itself, of course, literally by representing bodies as clearly fragmented. Bacon’s recurrent subject matter of disfigured people like the paralytic child or the dwarf, can, however, also be understood in this light. The strange posture of the paralytic child in Paralytic Child Walking on All Fours (From Muybridge) (1961) has a very uncanny effect. It is as if his limbs do not ft his body. Bacon’s choice for this subject could be explained by arguing that the paralytic child is already fragmented by nature. There is in fact no need to fragment this body by representation. The short legs and big head of the dwarf in Portrait of a Dwarf (1975) make up a body which is already not ‘whole.’ The shortness of his legs is even emphasised by his being depicted as sitting on a barstool. His limbs do not ‘fit’ together, so the body remains fragmented. At the same time there is no radical difference between the dwarf, the paralytic child, and the ‘normal’ figures in Bacon’s paintings. All figures are fragmented as if they were dwarfs or paralytics. Every figure, deformed or not, is disfigured.

Bacon’s position, then, appears highly ambivalent. On the one hand, he militates against the mortification of the subject by the objectifying force of the gaze of the other, folding the subject back onto itself and endorsing the resulting fragmentation as the inevitable consequence of this denial of the power of the other. His statements in the interviews emphasise this denial. This is the side of mortification, the price to pay for this autonomy undeniably present in the painted figures. Struggling his way out of the either/or mechanism of discourse, Bacon fights the domination of the other by drawing the other in. The viewer cannot resist the violently powerful figures whose wholeness is lost but whose presence is absolute. The endorsement of the loss of self bestows on these figures a power of absorption that accounts for the strong responses they solicit.



1 See the chapter ‘Bodyscapes’ in my book Francis Bacon and Te Loss of Self, Cambridge MA: Reaktion Books, 1992.

2 For shadows in the work of Bacon, see the chapter ‘Perception’ in my book Francis Bacon and the Loss of Self.

3 Jeferson argues that Barthes’ view is also strongly influenced by Sartre in this respect of self-other relations. He has, as she calls it, ‘an undeniably Sartrian streak’ (p. 153). This is made explicit by Barthes himself in his dedication of Camera Lucida as homage to Sartre’s L’Imaginaire



Anzieu, D. 1989. The Skin Ego: A Psychoanalytic Approach of the Self. Translated from the French by Chris Turner. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Bakhtin, M. 1990. Author and Hero in Aesthetic Activity. In Holquist, H. and Liapunov, V. eds. Art and Answerability. Early Philosophical Essays by M. M. Bakhtin. Austin: University of Texas Press, pp. 4–256.

Barthes, R. 1975. Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes. Paris: Éditions du Seuil.

Barthes, R. 1982. Camera Lucida. Refections on Photography. London: Fontana.

Butler, J. 1993. Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex. New York: Routledge.

Foster, H. 1996. The Return of the Real. The Avant-Garde at the End of the Century. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.

Jeferson, A. 1989. Bodymatters: Self and Other in Bakhtin, Sartre and Barthes. In Hirschkop, K. and Shepherd, D. eds. Bakhtin and Cultural Theory. Manchester: Manchester University Press, pp. 201–228.

Krauss, R. 1997. The Destiny of the Informe. In Bois, Y-A. and Krauss, R. eds. Formless: A User’s Guide. Cambridge MA: MIT Press, pp. 235–252.

Kristeva, J. 1982 [1980]. Powers of Horror. An Essay on Abjection. Trans. L. S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press.

Silverman, K. 1996. The Threshold of the Visible World. New York: Routledge.

Sylvester, D. 1987. The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon. London: Tames and Hudson.

Van Alphen, E. 1992. Francis Bacon and Te Loss of Self. Cambridge MA: Reaktion Books.












Extraordinary things occasionally happen to each of us. They can be positive, but mostly they’re not. When these occurrences arrive uninvited into our lives they erode comfortable reality. When we’re in their raucous midst we’re often heard exclaiming ‘I thought this only happened to other people’. FRANCIS BACON’s life was made up entirely of experiences like this. He didn’t seem to mind. They shaped him and they shaped his art. The marks he made on canvas continue to get under our skin and his considerable understanding of the allure of violence still pushes our buttons. He may well be our most individual painter – but I bet he was a better drinking partner.

His worldview and portraits were uniquely unsettling, unbelievably wise. His time for drinking was plentiful and his drinking time was 1950s Soho. England was still letting out sighs of relief, the horrors of WWII absorbing into the mauled fabric of memory. Horrors Bacon avoided fighting in by hiring a German Shepherd from Harrods and sleeping next to it in order to aggravate his asthma on the eve of his army induction. They granted him immediate medical exemption – but not from pulling dismembered bodies from bombed-out buildings or the who-gives-a-flying-fuck attitude of Soho’s dimly-lit dens of iniquity. In these boozers, between fleshpots on a grubby warren-like assembly of back-alleys and streets, bonds were formed and livers were scarred. Drinkers often fell foul of cirrhosis or Sohoitus: a geographic illness causing drinkers to become frayed at the edges and riddled with Bohemian tendencies, dahling. Bacon’s Wrecking Crew was no exception, staffed by a rag-tag collection of aristos, lowlifes, writers, chancers, fighter pilots and career criminals. All of whom lived their lives as theatre, lead characters or walk-ons, beneficiaries or victims of Bacon’s legendary generosity, his precision guile and his character-building put-downs. To be given the nickname ‘Cunty’ in his treasured local, the Colony Room, meant you’d been accepted.

Iconoclastic paintings often reveal as much about their painter as the times in which they were painted. And in much the same way as the work of his friend Lucian Freud, it’s Bacon’s portraits that slosh the truth onto the canvas. The ridiculously good summer exhibition at Tate Liverpool features a wealth of Bacon’s paintings that provoke and jab at the senses, the outcomes of which I’ll not do justice with cod-psychology or highfalutin’ words. It was a familiar feeling: when I left his 2008 retrospective at Tate Britain, I felt as if I’d been watching pure violence from a moving train. Bacon himself said that, “If I could express what I mean with words, I wouldn’t bother painting it.” It remained his life’s desire to capture the human scream on canvas, obsessed as he was by atrocity’s open mouth. It was his belief that he’d failed in this endeavour, and countless scrapped paintings (he estimated he destroyed nine-tenths of his paintings, “very probably the best ones, too”) act as proof of this unwavering ambition. He was careless with these discarded paintings and they often fell into the wrong hands; approaching the height of his fame, one appeared in a London gallery. Bacon bought it for thousands, stamped it to shit on the pavement outside the gallery and then went for oysters at his favourite restaurant. Fuck you.

The new exhibition’s title, Invisible Rooms, refers to the boxes he painted around his subjects: these became an essential part of his painterly repertoire although they were chiefly used to draw his eye. But they have another, far more devious, effect: they trap the subject against their will, perpetually howling for their lives. It is cage-fighting on canvas. Although he never worked on portraits with the sitter present, he always referred to the work he did to their faces as ‘doing them an injury’. Given that he often painted people he cared for, we arrive at an insight: hurting those we love. An accomplished sadist, Bacon believed that true love and artistic aspirations were incompatible: tempestuous is the one word that applies to his affairs of the heart. Two paintings in this exhibition, Study For A Portrait Of P.L, No.2 and Three Figures And Portrait, act as silent biographers of his fondness for turmoil. Both are of significant partners, both of whom died tragic deaths on the eves of pivotal solo shows: Peter Lacy the night before the 1962 Tate Gallery show and George Dyer the night before his show Grand Palais in Paris, 1971. Fuck me.

Peter Lacy was a fighter pilot who fought in the Battle of Britain and was held captive by Sohoitus, precisely where he met Bacon. Lacy was a talented pianist who squandered much of his sizeable inheritance on promoting a pop group. Forever in a pristine white suit and bow tie, he is described by Bacon as quintessentially English with “the face of a poet who has dropped in to remark that life after death is tolerable”. Needless to say, he liked a drink. And he ended up playing in a piano bar in Tangiers, soundtracking the bar’s tyrannical owner stuffing cannabis in the asses of exotic birds he then sold for export. Tangiers at this time was heaving with spies, gigolos, smugglers, countless brothels and proper hedonists. Tangiers made Ibiza look like the Norfolk Broads. William Burroughs wrote Naked Lunch there and Marlene Dietrich, Errol Flynn, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall all fell for its badman charms. It was also the preferred playground of the latterly-born English aristocrats; the ones set not to inherit the bulk of the family money. Tangiers was small beer; here they could live like white royalty and behave as such, creating a behind-closed-doors lawless atmosphere in open water in which Lacy revelled and Bacon swam on frequent holidays. Their rows were catastrophic; one such saw the end of 30 paintings, Lacy slashing them in a fit of rage before they could be shipped to New York for his first stateside show. Bacon, ever the nihilist, later confessed he “rather enjoyed” watching him do it. It was that kind of relationship: although Bacon felt privileged to have known him and painted him frequently, they never fully-clicked in late-fifties Soho, and Moroccan distance settled their differences in a way proximity never could. In May 1962 Bacon was in the Colony Room the day after his first solo Tate show, opening wads of praise-filled telegrams from around the globe: he had arrived on the world art stage and the champagne was flowing. The last telegram he opened informed him Peter Lacy had died the night before.

George Dyer haunts plenty of Bacon’s paintings. And there are many myths about their relationship – which is surprising because the truth is eye-watering enough. Despite a genuine affection and an undeniable connection, it wasn’t to be. Dyer was an East End petty crook with old-fashioned manners who (you guessed it) knew the Krays. And it was his air of violence that attracted him to Bacon – he liked ‘em rough. And Dyer was drawn, moth to flame, to Bacon’s assured manner and considerable cultural clout. Before long, Dyer was a kept man; a situation that exacerbated the despair that underlined his savage ways. As so often happens in imbalanced relationships, one half loses their identity as it becomes subsumed by the power of the other. When this unfolded, shit got messy real quick. They were arguing on holiday, screaming ab-dabs and bitch-slaps, when Bacon stormed from the bedroom headed for the hotel bar. Whilst drinking champagne a call came through to say that George had taken an overdose, but that Mr Bacon would be glad to hear he’d been saved by the house doctor. Bacon asked the manager if the doctor was still with him, the manager replied yes: without missing a beat Bacon said, “Then tell him to write another prescription so he can do the job properly.” When they got back to Blighty, George Orwell’s wife, Sonia, hired a hit man to kill Dyer: you really couldn’t make it up. News of the contract skulked around the back streets of Soho and ended up in the ear of Lucian Freud, who wrote to Sonia Orwell instructing her to call Blond Billy the hit man off. He ended the letter, “With friends like you I really don’t need enemies.” Along with a large group of friends including Sonia Orwell, Bacon and Dyer took their caustic dance to Paris for the grand opening of his show at the Grand Palais. At the Hotel St Peres, Dyer was found dead on the toilet: suicide. The news was kept hush-hush but inevitably some of the French dignitaries found out. When Bacon was showing the Minister of the Arts around the exhibition, the first painting that caught the Minister’s eye was a portrait of Dyer on the toilet: a reverberating image of his actual death hours before, blood spilling from every orifice.

Francis Bacon lived what he painted and painted what he lived. Capturing these experiences on canvas was his greatest gift to us: it gives us the luxury of the voyeur without the discomfort of turmoil. His work is the sea milliseconds before the shark attacks, the air turning thick when someone pulls a knife. The paintings in this exhibition are brooding masterpieces, touched by something impossible to explain. His power is undiminished by time. I’m writing this on the day a discarded pair of his paint-splattered gloves sold for £7,000 at auction. They were both left-handed. I’m reliably informed Bacon held his drink in his right. Here’s looking at you, Cunty.




                             Francis Bacon, Study For A Portrait Of P.L, No.2, 1957






June Sales End in Style with Christie’s Defining British Art Auction  







London’s June sales ended on a high note with Christie’s much-anticipated 250th-anniversary auction, Defining British Art. The house had set aside much of its prime material for this curated session and was rewarded with a strong showing — a final tally of £99,479,500 ($133 million), four artist records set — that more than made up for the relatively mediocre performance of its previous auctions this week and last.

The sale was remarkable for the efforts the house made to win consignments of material that it had auctioned previously, in some cases, in the same room. Ironically, because it coincided with a decline in the pound following the Brexit vote, international players might have had an advantage in bidding for works one would expect to appeal to a more local crowd.

Francis Bacon’s 1968 Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe brought £20,242,500 ($27 million), about what was expected. Other versions of the work are in the Beyeler Foundation and the Reina Sofia. This one might have fetched a higher sum if the markets weren’t in turmoil, but that’s up for debate.








  FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)

  Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe


   SALE 131oo LOT 6 




  30 June 2016 London, King Street




                                     Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe




Price Realized

£20,242,500 ($27,104,708)


Lot Description

Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe
signed ‘Francis Bacon’ (on the stretcher); titled and dated ‘Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe 1968’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
78 x 58in. (198 x 147.5cm.)
Painted in 1968


Special Notice

Artist’s Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist’s Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist’s collection agent.
These lots have been imported from outside the EU for sale using a Temporary Import regime. Import VAT is payable (at 5%) on the Hammer price. VAT is also payable (at 20%) on the buyer’s Premium on a VAT inclusive basis. This VAT is not shown separately on the invoice. When a buyer of such a lot has registered an EU address but wishes to export the lot or complete the import into another EU country, he must advise Christie’s immediately after the auction.



Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., London. 
Vanthournout Collection, Belgium (acquired from the above in 1970).
Their sale, Sotheby’s New York, 14 November 2006, lot 5.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.


Pre-Lot Text




Francis Bacon, exh. cat., Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée National d’art moderne, 1996, no. 57 (illustrated in colour).
D. Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, London 2000, p. 110, no. 88 (illustrated in colour). 
M. Harrison and R. Daniels (eds.), Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné Volume III 1958-71, London 2016, p. 878 (illustrated in colour, p. 879).



Knokke, Gemeetelijk Casino, XXXIIIe Belgian Summer Festival, Pop Art: Niewue Figuratie/Nouveau Réalism, 1970, p. 15.
New York, Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, Inc., Francis Bacon: Recent Paintings, 1968, p. 50, no. 15 (illustrated in colour, p. 51).
London, Hayward Gallery, Francis Bacon The Human Body, 1998, p. 101, no. 15 (illustrated in colour, unpaged)


Lot Notes

With its writhing, serpentine figure set within a stark amphitheatre of colour and form, Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe is one of the great masterpieces of Francis Bacon’s finest period: the 1960s. Against a sea of deep, cardinal red, flanked by a curtain of rapid painterly striations, Bacon’s supine nude lies sprawled upon a bed, framed by a vast ocular lens and suspended within a sharp cubic grid. Executed on a monumental scale, spanning nearly two metres in height, the painting marks the critical moment in Bacon’s oeuvre at which the diverse experimental strands of the preceding decade were brought into powerful synthesis: the near-total abstraction of the figure, the visceral animation of flesh, the corporeal handling of pigment and the rich, sensory palette of opulent and electric hues. Closely related to Bacon’s two great Lying Figure compositions of 1966 and 1969, housed in the Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofía and the Fondation Beyeler respectively, the painting represents a direct reworking of his 1963 canvas Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe. In its transformation of the earlier void-like composition into a living theatre of figural abstraction, the painting tells a story largely untold within Baconian mythology: the relationship between the artist and Willem de Kooning, whom he had met earlier that year. Like the American master’s seminal depictions of the female body as sites of raw, carnal sensation, Bacon’s woman dissolves into a violent, almost eligible tangle of limbs in motion: a dynamic bundle of animal matter in its most rarefied state. Whilst the cage and the ellipse – structures both visible in the present work – had previously provided Bacon with a means of ‘pinning down’ this pulsating figural energy, here they are no longer enough. The operation, transmitted directly from Bacon’s own nervous system onto the canvas, now required a syringe. 

Two years after its creation, Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe was one of the first paintings to be acquired by the Vanthournout collection, remaining in its prestigious holdings for nearly four decades. During this period, it was seen by the public on just one occasion when, in 1998, it was personally requested by Bacon’s foremost critic David Sylvester for his curatorial swansong Francis Bacon: The Human Body at the Hayward Gallery in London. There, it sat alongside an exclusive, tightly-curated selection of twenty-three works that, in the scholar’s opinion, represented the core of Bacon’s practice. For Sylvester, it was precisely the shadows of Abstract Expressionism in this work that justified its place in this elite survey, having previously described how the artist ‘came closer to de Kooning here than in any other of his works’ (D. Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, London 2000, p. 108). Though the painting may be understood in relation to Bacon’s landmark Crucifixion triptychs of 1962 and 1965, as well as his celebrated depictions of Henrietta Moraes – whose reclining figure inspired the present work – its dialogue with abstraction ultimately sets it apart from these compositions. Pigment, and its ability to embody sensation, becomes the primary focus of the work; in myriad tones of green, blue, pink, red, yellow and purple, it is swiped, swept and smeared, stippled, shuttered and scrubbed across the picture plane. The central ovular field, contained within a vitrine-like case, is simultaneously an operating theatre, an arena or even perhaps an eye, in which the figure hovers like an optical illusion. The syringe, in this light, becomes an anchor in the face of the formless and nameless: a means, as Bacon himself described, of ‘nailing the image more strongly into reality or appearance’ (F. Bacon, quoted in D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact, Interviews with Francis Bacon, London 1975, p. 78).



Though Bacon maintained something of a scathing attitude towards Abstract Expressionism throughout his career, the 1960s saw the development of a complex – if, at times, subconscious – dialogue with the movement’s key proponents. The Tate Gallery’s 1959 exhibition The New American Painting had a profound impact on the artist, and many of Bacon’s subsequent compositions – including, most notably, the 1963 version of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe – began to echo the stacked colour fields espoused by artists such as Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman. In contrast to the works of the 1950s, Bacon’s palette morphed from a representational tool to a sensory conductor: colour was increasingly employed for its emotive rather than pictorial potential. A new set of tonalities entered his vocabulary: bright, electric flashes of green, pink and orange that sat in jarring relation to the luxuriant, velvety carpets of burgundy, regal purple and blue carried over from his earlier Papal portraits. As in the present work, these neon hues were frequently employed as halo-like shadows, shrouding his subjects in a radioactive haze. For Bacon, colour gradually became a means of capturing what he described as the ‘emanation’ of his subjects – a tool for abstracting them beyond the physical world. Despite his suspicion of the gestural language proposed by Newman, Rothko, Pollock and others, it was precisely this understanding of colour as a vehicle for transcendence that lay at the heart of their beliefs. 

However, of all his Abstract Expressionist contemporaries, it was ultimately de Kooning with whom Bacon most readily identified. The two artists, along with Sylvester, met for the first time in January 1968, at a dinner during de Kooning’s visit to London. According to Ted Morgan, Bacon came to regard him as ‘the great man in the United States for bursting through the abstract and planting an image on the canvas’ (T. Morgan quoted in D. Farson, The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon, London 1993, p. 141). This notion spoke directly to Bacon’s own practice which, since its inception, had sought to embed the physical and emotive essence of his subjects within the very fibres of the linen: to capture what he referred to as the ‘after-glow’ of the human form and to fix it in paint. De Kooning’s famous assertion that ‘Flesh was the reason oil painting was invented’ resonated strongly with Bacon’s aesthetic agenda, and both artists shared a deep admiration for Chaïm Soutine’s richly-textured depictions of viscera and carcasses. Their shared ancestry in the primitivist aesthetic of Pablo Picasso positioned them as leading voices in what Sylvester termed the ‘figurative sublime’ - a counterpoint to the much-lauded ‘abstract sublime’ practiced by Newman, Rothko and Pollock. Indeed, in his seminal 1980 documentary The Shock of the New, the art critic Robert Hughes paired Bacon and de Kooning as the twentieth century’s most important exponents of ‘the disquieting human figure’ (R. Hughes, The Shock of the New, BBC, 1980).

Nowhere is this parallel more palpable in Bacon’s oeuvre than in the present work. Like the primal beings that confront the viewer from the swirling depths of de Kooning’s Woman paintings, Bacon’s figure is boiled down to a cellular, almost amoeba-like reduction of the human body. Its physical substance is sublimated to a series of abstracted movements, channelled through the sheer force of Bacon’s own physical gestures. For both artists, the tactile condition of sculpture was an important reference point in their respective approaches to human anatomy. De Kooning – who, unlike Bacon, actively worked in the medium – famously closed his eyes whilst modelling clay, bringing his creations to life through touch rather than sight. Bacon’s work too, powerfully rooted in his fascination with Michelangelo and Rodin, was born of an intense physical engagement with the very grain of the pigment. As Robert Melville once wrote, ‘Bacon has used paint as if he were modeling the figure out of wet clay or as if he has forced his hands into the actual substance of the model and sculpted the bone structure in order to intensify the pliancy of the flesh’ (R. Melville, quoted in Francis Bacon, exh. cat., Tate Britain, London, 2008, p. 262). In the present work, Bacon not only moulds but ultimately pulls apart the figure, peeling back the flesh to reveal the twitching nervous system and muscular spasms beneath. By consciously animating the interior of his subject, Bacon allows his figure to break free from its physical condition, liquidating its form to a fluid carnal trace. It is a powerful demonstration of André Breton’s famous assertion that ‘Beauty will be convulsive or not at all’ (A. Breton, Nadja, New York 1960, p. 160).



Throughout his oeuvre, Bacon’s desire to penetrate right to the heart of his subjects was borne out not only by his handling of the figure, but also through the compositional armature in which his subjects were situated. The grids, cages and ovals that increasingly populated his canvases throughout the 1950s and 1960s were conceived as zoom lenses: devices through which to isolate and spotlight the flesh. The distinctive cubic frame, frequently compared to the Chinagraph markings used by photographers to indicate areas for enlargement, has also been likened to the cages in which Bacon’s contemporary Alberto Giacometti submitted his subjects to deep existential enquiry. The elliptical vortex functions in a similar way. Though Bacon has traced the origin of this structure to the ‘beautifully curved rooms’ at the back of his grandmother’s house in Farmleigh, Martin Harrison has identified a number of potential sources of inspiration for this structure, including the circular barriers around casino roulette tables, sporting arenas – particularly those of the bullfight or corrida – the swirling vortexes of Soutine’s landscapes, Max Ernst’s appropriation of the zoopraxiscope and the photographs of operating theatres found in Bacon’s prized medical textbooks (M. Harrison, In Camera: Francis Bacon. Photography, Film and the Practice of Painting, London 2005, pp. 118-121). Elsewhere, it has been suggested that this ovular void evokes an eye - a metaphor for vision, as co-opted by Bacon’s early Surrealist influences Luis Buñuel and Georges Bataille. For Bacon, who worked from a flood of reproduced and half-remembered pictures, photographs and sources scattered around his studio, it was via these geometric frames that he was able to filter the contents of his own mind’s eye into a single, animated image. 

In the present work, along with its predecessor, these two structures are joined by a third – the syringe. Within an oeuvre that sought to pierce the very skin of its subjects, the metaphorical significance of this device goes straight to the heart of Bacon’s aesthetic preoccupations. If the cage and the oval attempted to contain the figure, the syringe was a means of pinning it down for closer examination. Bacon’s fascination with Cimabue’s depictions of the crucifixion was ultimately rooted in the same concept: it was through anchoring the human figure, he believed, that its true essence could begin to emerge. Writing of the 1963 version of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe, Gilles Deleuze explained how the image ‘is less a nailed-down body (though this is how Bacon describes it) than a body attempting to pass through the syringe and to escape through this hole or vanishing point functioning as a prosthesis-organ’ (G. Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, 1981, London 2005, pp. 17-18). Deleuze’s conception of the syringe as an organ of sorts invites comparison with the ellipse’s construal as an eye: they are not only means of ensnaring or fixing the body, but equally vehicles for allowing it to transcend its external appearance. Both are gateways to the abstract tangle of nervous electricity that flows beneath the body’s physical surface. Along with the cage, they exemplify what Deleuze refers to elsewhere as the ‘diagram’ – vectors that interact with the figure, pinioning it to the canvas and thereby forcing its internal energy to the surface.



Though the majority of Bacon’s figures were based on people he knew, he rarely worked directly from life. The figurative violence he enacted upon his subjects was, to his mind, so extreme that he preferred to work from photographs. Though the present work is far from a portrait of Henrietta Moraes in the traditional sense, it was nonetheless her reclining figure that formed the basis for its central protagonist. Part of the colourful cast of Soho characters who touched Bacon’s life during the 1960s, Moraes featured in some of Bacon’s most significant paintings from this period, including Three Studies for a Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, 1963 (Museum of Modern Art, New York), Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, 1963, Study for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, 1964, and Henrietta Moraes, 1966. Many of these works, along with the present painting, derived from a series of photographs taken by John Deakin of Moraes reclining on a bed. Though Bacon specified the exact pose he wished her to enact, the first series of images – which depicted her in an upright recumbent posture – met with dismay: ‘the blithering nitwit reversed every single shot of you I wanted’, he complained to Moraes (F. Bacon quoted in H. Moraes, Henrietta, London 1994, p. 71). He insisted that Deakin take another set of photographs, this time with Moraes lying flat on her back, her head towards the viewer, her arms outstretched and her leg raised. It was a pose that related directly to his earliest Lying Figure compositions of 1959-61, based on Rodin’s Iris Messenger of the Gods. This posture, in various subtly different guises, features in all of the Lying Figures from the 1960s and would, in turn, inform the figures that populated his Crucifixion triptychs. 

By the time of the present work, photography – and its extension into cinema – had become a primary point of reference in Bacon’s attempts to capture the human body. The idea of isolating and preserving a split second of figural motion appealed directly to his desire to zoom in on the body’s carnal make-up. Of all the works produced during the 1960s, the present work is among the most powerful engagements with the legacy of Eadweard Muybridge, whose frame-by-frame accounts of the human body in movement provided a deep source of inspiration for Bacon. Arms, legs and torsos are so closely entwined that they mutate to form a single entity. Like a film paused on rewind, or a long photographic exposure, time and movement collapse and coalesce, creating a hybrid being that quivers with heightened sensory charge. The rapid striations of paint that hover behind the figure – recalling the ‘shuttering’ effect that Bacon adapted from the pastels of Edgar Degas – also have their origins in filmic media, reminiscent of shuddering optical static or a cinematic time lapse. Used throughout his oeuvre to express a release of tension – most notably in his screaming Papal portraits of the 1950s and early 1960s – here it recalls the persistent fluttering of an eyelid; a series of rapid blinks, struggling to focus on the swirling vortex of impasto that lies, spread-eagled, in the middle of the composition. 



In its virtuosic dialogue between figuration and abstraction, motion and containment, Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe represents one of Bacon’s most important meditations on the convulsive nature of reality. It is perhaps significant in this regard that Bacon – who up until the 1960s had almost exclusively painted men – chose a woman as his vehicle. Indeed, it is in his depictions of the female form, more than anywhere else in his oeuvre, that Bacon revealed the double-edged depths of his own search for identity. As David Sylvester has written, ‘the two sexes met in Francis Bacon, more than in any other human being I have encountered. At moments he was one of the most feminine of men, at others one of the most masculine. He would switch between these roles as suddenly and as unpredictably as the switching of a light. That duality did more than anything perhaps to make his presence so famously seductive and compelling and to make him so peculiarly wise and realistic in his observation of life’ (D. Sylvester, Francis Bacon: The Human Body, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1998, p. 21). In a painting so rich in association, it is perhaps appropriate that Bacon’s central figure should embody the conflict that lay at the heart of his own being. As John Russell said of the artist’s work, ‘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’ (J. Russell, Francis Bacon, London 1971, p. 132). Sprawled upon a bed – the primal site of birth and death – the figure’s transitional state offers a powerful commentary on the human condition in its broadest sense.