Francis Bacon News




HQ Visits... The Bacon Report


By Sue Conley, Herald Ireland, Thursday October 29 2009



It's the centenary of Francis Bacon's birth, and one feels obliged to write about it. But when one looks - or I look, if you're going to be casual about it - at a body of work only to go, "Ugh" ... well, one wonders what the hell one is going to come up with.

If you write about a certain subject for a living, you can't always like everything that you write about - but there is something so unappealing about Bacon's work that it created quite a dilemma. He is deemed too important by the powers-that-be to fob off with a mention at the bottom of the arts pages. So, what's a girl reporter to do?

She can start with the truth: I don't like the work of Francis Bacon. It is revolting, violent, not only grotesque but gross; it is frightening and nightmarish. It's emotional terrorism, like being forced to watch torture, as the bulk of his imagery is either all screaming popes or carcasses of cows, or distortions of the human figure so subtle that it takes a while to figure out what is so disturbing.

However ... there's got to be something fairly powerful going on to provoke such a reaction. So, rather than just react all over the place and settle into my off-put opinion, I decided to let someone try to convince me otherwise. I hired myself to the Hugh Lane Gallery, which has mounted A Terrible Beauty, marking Bacon's 100th birthday with a presentation of objects and research materials from the gallery's extensive Bacon archive; once there, I just about dared one of the curators, Padraic Moore, to convince me of the merits of an artist whose work I disliked so thoroughly.

To his great credit, he didn't blink an eye when I told him of my aversion. "When you approach the later paintings," he agreed, "they have all the qualities that you were talking about, this visceral, aggressive, violent, even frightening energy. And they're not necessarily aesthetically pleasing." Ha! I knew I was right!

Moore continues: "But they have a function, and I think that function is to provoke. It's important to contextualise where he was coming from."

The context is illuminating. Born in Dublin to a British military family, Bacon Senior was horsey, and it was his equine capabilities that brought the family to Ireland. They returned to London during the First World War, and then moved back to Ireland for our own Civil War. Not restful times in which to grow up.

Bacon Junior was asthmatic, and arty; at 16 he was ejected from the family home when Dad found him dressed up in Mum's clothes. He went to London and, with some education here and there, and no formal art training at all, took up life as an artist.

What a time to have lived. Two world wars, the atomic age ... "I think he was really only reflecting what he was bombarded with," says Moore, and I have to agree. I'm starting to understand something about the psyche of Francis.

Then there's how his lover, George Dyer, died of an overdose the night before the opening of Bacon's first retrospective in the Grand Palais in Paris. The gallery's archive yields several photographs of Bacon attending the showing despite his grief, although in one image clearly shows the devastation Dyer's death has wrought.

Oh, dear. He's becoming human. "The work is very human," Moore insists. "And humanity is violent, and it is sexual, and it is about suffering and vulnerability and isolation."

Oh. Yes. That's true. It's not all water lilies and Madonnas and child and dogs playing poker, is it?

Now I begin to question what it is I look for in an artwork. Am I happy enough with impressionistic light upon the water, or am I up for a challenge? Moore takes me for a tour of the exhibition, and he points out some of the things that he values in the paintings: the formal structure, the palette of luscious colours, the recurring body language of the figures.

There's a portrait of Francis' last lover, John Edwards, from 1988: the figure sits on a cane chair in his underpants, against a black and olive background. It's simple, it's direct, and it echoes, painfully, mournfully, many of the portraits that Bacon did of Dyer. "Something that's left out of the reading of his work is love, and affection, and the suffering that this causes," says Moore.

"If you are the sort of person who is attached to people, as soon as you make the decision to attach yourself to another human being, you are instantly vulnerable, and there's the potential for suffering."

I feel my heart creak open, just a crack, to allow in comprehension of the sadness of the artist. And then I get freaked out by the shadow of Edwards that Bacon has painted in the foreground: it is flesh coloured.

I have no idea why that freaks me out, but it does - all the way. It is just plain nasty. And yet I've learned a lot about the man, and I've allowed myself to take in his work, so I'm not totally repulsed.

Bacon may not make my lifetime hit parade of favourite artists, but getting glimpse of his work process, through the gallery's presentation of its archival materials, has humanised him. I don't hate his work any more, and I can appreciate its power to push buttons and evoke tumultuous emotions.

It is, after all, only paint on canvas - but in the right hands, paint on fabric becomes explosive, and disconcerting, which says everything about the power of art. And the most powerful art is often the least lovely. But don't ask me to appreciate that Italian dude who put his own excrement in tins and sold it for buckets of money. I've got to draw the line somewhere. HQ

Francis Bacon: A Terrible Beauty, runs 'til March 2010 at the Hugh Lane Gallery, see for more information

- Sue Conley  




Artist's anniversary marked


AN EXHIBITION marking the 100th anniversary of artist Francis Bacon’s birth opened at the Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane, yesterday evening, writes AIDAN DUNNE


Aidan Dunne, The Irish Times, Thursday, October 29, 2009


Hugh Delap, from Clontarf, and Jenny Fitzgibbon, from Rathmines, with Study for Portrait (John Edwards) by Francis Bacon, at the opening of A Terrible Beauty yesterday. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh



Francis Bacon: A Terrible Beauty puts on display many of the contents of Francis Bacon’s studio, which the gallery received in 1998.

Opening the exhibition, President McAleese paid tribute to Hugh Lane director Barbara Dawson, her staff and Brian Clarke, the executor of the artist’s estate.

“They deserve a big thank you for bringing this man home,” she said, describing Bacon as “the defining figure in Irish visual art generally and one of the greatest of the 20th century”.

Commenting on the famous messiness of Bacon’s studio, the President said he was lucky he had never had to receive a presidential visit there because, as her daughter had told her after an official visit to her school: “A visit from the President is like having your mother visit your bedroom, so a visit to Bacon’s studio would clearly have been a disaster for everyone concerned.”  



Brian Clarke also commented on the studio’s state of disorder. He first visited it late at night, when the artist was still alive and without his knowledge. “It was,” he said, “both exhilarating and repulsive.”

Clarke and the late John Edwards, Bacon’s heir, gave the studio to the Hugh Lane, who sent in an archaeological team to survey and catalogue it. It inventoried more than 7,000 items, all of which were shipped to Dublin. The recreated studio can be seen in the Hugh Lane now.

Also on view is a selection of Bacon’s paintings, many of them only rarely exhibited in public before, including a picture from Damien Hirst’s personal collection. The studio contents, including unfinished and partially destroyed canvases, sketches, photographic prints and photographic reproductions in books and magazine, has been a treasure trove for scholars of the artist’s work.  




Die Schönheit des Schreckens


Gewalt und Leidenschaft, Rausch und Reflexion: zum 100. Geburtstag des Malers Francis Bacon


             Francis Bacon in Soho, London, 1970 by James Jackson




Was die Kunst seit allen Zeiten am meisten mit der Realität und dem Leben verbindet, ist ausgerechnet ihr fantastischer Sinn für das Grausige und Grausame. Kriege, Verbrechen, blutige Leidenschaften sind ihr Höchstes und bezeugen zugleich etwas zutiefst Menschliches. Das gilt von der Ilias, den antiken Tragödien, den Tempelreliefs der Mayas oder den Märtyrer-Folterbildern, den Kreuzigungen der christlichen Kunstgeschichte – bis hin zu zwei jüngsten filmischen Meisterwerken, Quentin Tarantinos Inglorious Basterds und Michael Hanekes Das weiße Band.


Das Böse ist allemal faszinierender als das Brave und Gute, nur der Konflikt ist dramatisch, nicht die reine Harmonie. Die "Ästhetik des Schreckens", die immer neu fingierte Schönheit des Fürchterlichen freilich unterscheidet die Kunst auch vom Leben: weil die leibhaftige Qual, weil das wirkliche Leidantun vor allem dumpf, brutal und widerlich sind.


Eben dieses Paradoxon der Kunst und des Kunstgenusses (die Lust am Bild des Schreckens) hat wohl kein anderer Artist der Moderne in seinen Werken so unerbittlich und unwiderstehlich verkörpert wie der heute vor 100 Jahren in Dublin geborene und 1992 in Madrid gestorbene englische Maler Francis Bacon. Wenn Pablo Picasso das Bildgenie des 20. Jahrhunderts war, dann muss man ihm in der zweiten Jahrhunderthälfte Francis Bacon zur Seite stellen.


Der Maler des aufgerissenen Fleisches und der zerfetzten Körper, der auch im Bild des Selbstmords bereits die Explosionen der heutigen Selbstmordattentäter vorausgesehen zu haben schien, er ist heute mit seinen Großwerken im Kunsthandel ein 100-Millionen-Dollar-Fall. Und immer hat er auf die ästhetische Form höchsten Wert gelegt, bis zum Äußersten und (vermeintlich nur) Äußerlichen: Seine Szenerien von Blut und Glut sind absichtlich hinter kühles Glas gesetzt, wie sonst nur viel ältere, unersetzliche Meisterwerke, zudem hat er sie in vergoldete Rahmen gehängt. Bacon war sich der hiermit gesteigerten und zugleich kontrollierten Wirkung seines Oeuvres immer bewusst. Er suchte die Schönheit, nicht den Ekel, auch wenn seine bühnenhaften Tableaux oft grausigen Tatorten gleichen. Wobei Täter, Opfer und Zuschauer auch zu Detektiven werden: auf der eigenen Spur.


Schon als Kind erfährt der 1909 geborene Francis, mit seiner (britischen) Familie zwischen Irland und England wechselnd, Weltkrieg und Bürgerkrieg, seine Brüder sterben früh, und der Vater ist ein Pferdetrainer und roher Mann. Mit 18 Jahren geht der Schulabbrecher von London nach Berlin zu einem obskuren Onkel – und erlebt 1927 als frühreifer Streuner jenes Berlin der katzengoldenen, schrillen Roaring Twenties: voller Gewalt und Leidenschaften, Elend und Glitter, Halbwelt und Dekadenz. Es ist das politisch, sexuell, kulturell abgründige Cabaret -Berlin, das sein Landsmann Christopher Isherwood beschrieben hat.


Noch im selben Jahr 1927 reist Bacon aber weiter nach Paris und begegnet dort in der Galerie des Kunsthändlers Paul Rosenberg erstmals Bildern von Pablo Picasso. Es sind kubistisch aufgespaltene, vieldeutige Gesichter und Gestalten, die auf die nackte bizarre Form von Knochen, durchbrochenem Gestein oder magischen Strünken reduziert und verdichtet wirken. Für Francis Bacon, den alsbald bekennenden Trinker, Spieler, Homosexuellen und Gelegenheitsarbeiter wird das zum lebensentscheidenden Schock. Wird zur Erweckung seines schier unheimlichen und später als völliger Autodidakt ausgebildeten Talents.


Wissen ist Macht. Francis Bacon, der Philosoph und Shakespeare-Zeitgenosse, hat den berühmten Satz geprägt. Und sein gleichnamiger familiärer Nachfahre hat zumindest von der Macht des Bösen so viel gewusst, dass er davon sein visionäres Zeugnis ablegen sollte.


Um zu überleben, entwirft Bacon zunächst Teppiche und Möbel, er malt nebenher und ab 1933 stellt er in London erste Bilder aus, fast ohne Resonanz. Exzessiv und zugleich extrem kritisch, wie er war, hat Bacon 1943 fast sein gesamtes Frühwerk vernichtet. Nur 15 Bilder sind aus jener Zeit erhalten, und als sein Debüt galt ihm selbst das Triptychon Drei Studien für Figuren am Fuß einer Kreuzigung von 1944.


Drei Öltafeln gleich einem weltlichen Altar, doch ohne fortlaufenden erzählerischen Kontext, sondern in gegenseitiger motivischer Spannung: das wird Bacons Spezialität. Schon die ersten drei "Figuren" sind, auf blutorangenem Grund, in einem von geometrischen Linien bezeichneten Raum verkrümmte, arm-, bein- und augenlose Menschenwesen mit hündischen Köpfen, beherrscht vom aufgerissenen Gebiss und einem kreatürlichen Schrei.


Solche Bilder machen bald Furore. Gegen den Trend zur allgemeinen Abstraktion hält Bacon am letzten, existentiellen Ausdruck des Figürlichen, des Menschen-Bilds fest. Nach 1945 ist er der Künstler, der – ohne politische Botschaft und stärker selbst als Picasso mit Guernica – ins Bewusstsein rückt, dass selbst Auschwitz menschenmöglich war. Als er schon berühmt ist, nennt er die abstrakte Malerei eine schier formale Kunst, ohne innere Spannung und Dramatik, bestenfalls bediene sie "lyrische Empfindungen". Inzwischen ist Bacon, dessen mit dem Farbschwamm virtuos verwischten Gesichter und Gesichte weder naiv naturalistische noch dekorativ surrealistische Sehnsüchte stillen, zum Heros fast aller gegenständlichen Kunst geworden, nicht zuletzt auch der Maler um Neo Rauch und der Leipziger Schule.


Am Abend oder Vorabend großer Retrospektiven sind Bacons engste Freunde (und Modelle) an Drogen oder durch Selbstmord gestorben. Das ist ebenso beschrieben worden wie Bacons Verhältnis zu Velázquez, dessen Porträt von Papst Innozenz X. zum Vorbild des vielfach variierten Schreienden Papstes wurde.


Aus Anlass des 100. Geburtstages liegt jetzt auch zur weniger beleuchteten Verbindung von Picasso und Bacon der materialreiche Katalogband des Pariser Musée Picasso auf Deutsch vor. Und der Berliner Parthas Verlag erhellt Bacon in einem kleinen, empfehlenswerten Buch, das neben berühmten Essays etwa von Arnold Gehlen, Gilles Deleuze oder Michel Leiris (den Bacon porträtierte) ein fabelhaftes, hier erstmals übersetztes Interview der Schriftstellerin Marguerite Duras mit dem Maler aus dem Jahr 1971 enthält. Wie sonst nur in seinen früher schon publizierten Gesprächen mit dem Kritiker und Vertrauten David Sylvester beschreibt Bacon darin fast neurologisch präzise das Geheimnis künstlerisch reflektierter Spontaneität.




Francis Bacon – Suff, Sadomaso und Kreuzigungen


Von Tim Ackermann, Welt Online, 28. Oktober 2009




Er war Masochist, Chaot, Spieler, und mit seinen Lebensgefährten führte er zerstörerische Beziehungen. Dennoch hat kaum ein Künstler in den vergangenen Jahrzehnten den Kunstmarkt so dominiert wie Francis Bacon (1909-1992). Seine Werke kosten Millionen, und sein Einfluss ist noch immer enorm.

"Die Menschen sterben um mich herum, wie die Fliegen", sagte Francis Bacon 1975. "Es ist niemand mehr übrig geblieben, den ich malen könnte, außer mir selbst." Fünf Jahre später porträtierte sich der Maler mit einer Physiognomie wie durchgekneteter Hefeteig.

Die Farbe strich er teilweise mit Bürsten oder Lappen auf die Leinwand. Die Gesichtszüge sind dadurch ins leicht Abstrakte verrutscht. Es hat ein wenig den Anschein, als habe sich der Künstler bei den Tafeln von Three Studies for a Self Portrait in sein eigenes Antlitz hineingegraben. Ganz so, als habe er gehofft, dort zwischen den Knochen etwas Wichtiges zu finden.

Francis Bacon, der Maler der seelischen Pein und des Schmerzes, wäre jetzt 100 Jahre alt geworden. Neben William Turner gehört er heute zu den bekanntesten britischen Künstlern. Seine großen Triptychen werden - auch durch ein gesteigertes Interesse am Auktionsmarkt in den vergangenen Jahren - zu hohen zweistelligen Millionenpreisen versteigert.

Für die zeitgenössische Kunst scheint er so relevant wie nie zuvor. Bacon selbst hätte es wohl besonders gefallen, mitzuerleben, wie er beim Publikum populärer wurde als sein Landsmann und Erzfeind David Hockney. Gegenüber der Sorglosigkeit von Hockneys Pop-Art empfand der Maler stets einen erklärten Abscheu.

"Jedes Mal wenn ich Hockney erwähnte, ging Francis fast mit Fäusten auf mich los", sagt der Bacon-Biograf Michael Peppiatt. Kein Wunder: Schließlich drehte sich seine eigene Kunst ganz um das Gefühl des Verlustes.



100 Jahre Francis Bacon

Im Namen des Fleisches



Religion, sagt Francis Bacon, ist für ihn kein Thema. Schwer zu glauben angesichts all der Päpste, Kreuzigungen und Höllenvisionen in seinem Werk. Bacon ist anders. Sein Vater verzeiht ihm das nicht, er selbst noch weniger. Ein Trauma, dem wir einige der verstörendsten Bilder des 20. Jahrhunderts verdanken.



Von Susanne Lorenz


BR online, Bayerischer Rundfunk, 28.10.09






                              Francis Bacon 1972 in seinem Atelier




In Bacons Bildern kauern Menschen wie Klumpen rohen Fleisches am Boden oder auf Betten, gehäutet und blutig. Oder sie hängen wie Rinderhälften in bizarren Kreuzigungsposen in einem Zimmer. Wesen, die weder Mensch noch Tier ähneln, reißen ihre Mäuler auf und entblößen zu viele Zähne. Er malt schreiende Päpste, verzerrt die Gesichter seiner Freunde und setzt seine Figuren in beengte Räume und Käfige.

Bilder wie Monster aus der Tiefe

Viele seiner Bildideen verdankt Bacon den Surrealisten. Sein Unterbewusstsein nennt er einen "Pool", aus dem die Bilder wie Tiefseemonster auftauchen. Eines dieser Monster ist der Papst - für Bacon ein Symbol der Tyrannei, das er immer wieder demontiert. Wobei es Bacon weniger um den Papst als Stellvertreter Christi geht als vielmehr um die Vaterfigur, die "Il Papa" verkörpert. Bacon ist Atheist; der Papst spielt als solcher in seinem Leben keine Rolle. Wohl aber sein eigener Vater, ein prügelnder Tyrann, der seine Kindheit und Jugend stärker prägt als Bacon später zugeben will.

Das schmerzvolle Anderssein des Francis Bacon

Bacons Vater trainiert in Irland Rennpferde, strotzt vor Männlichkeit und bevorzugt Bacons Bruder Edward. Nach Edwards frühem Tod soll Francis in dessen Rolle schlüpfen. Der Vater setzt ihn aufs Pferd, obwohl der asthmakranke Junge wegen der Tierhaare fast erstickt und sie die Ausritte jedes Mal abbrechen müssen. Enttäuscht von seinem schwächlichen Sohn, lässt er ihn von den Stallburschen auspeitschen. Da sich Bacon zu den Männern körperlich hingezogen fühlt, beschämt ihn diese Bestrafung noch mehr. Der Teenager weiß, dass er "anders" ist. Er spürt auch, dass es "falsch" ist, den eigenen Vater erotisch anziehend zu finden. Zum Eklat kommt es aber erst, als der Vater den Sohn in der Unterwäsche der Mutter erwischt. Er will Bacon nicht mehr sehen. Der 16-Jährige geht nach London.

Malen, was ihn erregt: Gewalt

Zeitlebens besteht Bacon darauf, dass die Verzerrungen in seinen Gemälden völlig natürlich seien. Er sagt, dass seine Bilder keine Geschichten erzählen. Er male lediglich, was ihn errege. Das stimmt auch: Gewalt erregt ihn mehr als alles andere. Seine Vorliebe für sadomasochistische Praktiken ist kein Geheimnis. Bacon sucht sich Partner, die ihm körperlich überlegen sind, ihn grün und blau schlagen. Oft humpelt er mit blutiger Nase durch das nächtliche London auf der Suche nach einer offenen Bar. Auch wenn sich Bacons Bilder nicht in jedem Detail erklären lassen, erzählen sie sehr wohl vom komplexen Gefühlsleben des Künstlers, der sich lebenslang für seine Homosexualität schämt, sich schuldig fühlt und nach Strafe verlangt.




Der Maler der Deformation


Vor 100 Jahren wurde Francis Bacon geboren


Von Anette Schneider, Deutschland Radio, 20.09.2009



             Der britische Maler Francis Bacon.             



Seine Bilder hängen in allen großen Museen, auf Auktionen erreichen sie Rekordsummen: Francis Bacon gilt als einer der wichtigsten Maler seit 1945 - auch, wenn manche Kritiker in seinen deformierten Darstellungen Monstergestalten erkennen wollen und sie als brutal brandmarken.

"Rot; drei Leinwände rot. Blutrot die obere Bildhälfte, orangerot die untere."

Drei Studien zu einer Kreuzigung, ein Triptychon, entstanden 1962. Jedes Bild misst knapp zweimal eineinhalb Meter. Auf der linken Tafel:

"Zwei schemenhafte Männerfiguren. Im Vordergrund geschlachtete Tierhälften."

Der Mittelteil:

"Ein eisernes Bettgestell mit Matratze und verrutschtem Laken. Darauf ein zerschlagener menschlicher Körper."

Die rechte Tafel.

"Eine gewaltige ausgeweidete Tierhälfte: Rippen, Fleisch, Fett. Im Vordergrund der bedrohliche Schatten eines Menschen."

Als das Triptychon 1962 in der ersten Bacon-Retrospektive in London gezeigt wurde, reagierten Kritiker und Öffentlichkeit schockiert. So titelte die Daily Mail:

"Es ist die schrecklichste Ausstellung, die Großbritannien je erlebt hat! Wer zimperlich ist oder angst vor Albträumen hat, sollte nicht hingehen!"

Auf die immer wiederkehrenden Vorwürfe, seine Bilder seien so brutal, reagierte Bacon stets mit dem Hinweis, er würde das Leben nicht brutaler zeigen, als es ist. Das, so der Maler in einem BBC-Interview, sei gar nicht möglich.

"I don't make life more extraordinary than it is. Just look what life is like. Just think about it for a moment. Would you say that my things have exaggerated what happens all over the world or to you or here? I certainly never been or try to make it more violent than it is. One couldn't."

Anfang der 1970er-Jahre erklärten Kritiker Francis Bacon zum wichtigsten Maler seiner Zeit. Seitdem erreichen seine Bilder Rekordsummen. Doch sein Werk ist nach wie vor umstritten. Geboren am 28. Oktober 1909 in Dublin war Bacon gerade 16 Jahre alt, als sein Vater, ein Pferdezüchter, ihn aus dem Elternhaus warf. Er hatte entdeckt, dass sein Sohn homosexuell war. Bacon ging nach London, schlug sich mit Gelegenheitsjobs durch und reiste nach Berlin und Paris, wo er die Malerei entdeckte. Kurz vor seinem Tod, im Jahr 1992, blickte Bacon auf diese Zeit zurück. In einem BBC-Interview erklärte er:

"Ich erlebte den Ersten Weltkrieg und all die Dinge, die zwischen ihm, der Russischen Revolution und dem Zweiten Weltkrieg geschahen. Wenn man so will: eine von chaotischen Verhältnissen geprägte Zeit. Und ich denke, das beeinflusst die eigene Wahrnehmung der Dinge."

Der lebenshungrige Künstler, der nie eine Akademie besuchte, und den ein Kritiker bezeichnete als ...

"Maler von Homosexualität, Sadismus und Erbrochenem!"

... dieser Künstler rang zeitlebens um Möglichkeiten, von Wirklichkeit zu erzählen, doch nicht abbildhaft oder illustrativ. Das, so betonte Bacon, könnten Fotografie und Film besser.

"Was will man da als Künstler anderes machen, als zum anderen Extrem zu gelangen, wo man Wirklichkeit nicht als simple Tatsache aufzeichnet, sondern auf vielen Ebenen. Wo man Empfindungszonen erschließen kann, die zu einem tieferen Gefühl für die Wirklichkeit des Bildes führen, wo man versucht, eine Konstruktion zu finden, durch die das Wesentliche roh und lebendig eingefangen wird und so bleibt und schließlich, man kann sagen, versteinert - da ist es."

"Auf den glattem ein- und zweifarbigen Hintergründen: einsame schmerzhaft verdrehte und verrenkte Körper. Verzerrte, deformierte Gesichter. Gemalt in heftig-bewegtem Farbauftrag, der das Innerste nach Außen zu heben scheint."

Auf die blutigen Triptychen der 60er-Jahre, große Gleichnisse eines gewalttätigen 20. Jahrhunderts, folgten in den 70er- und 80er-Jahren Porträts und Triptychen von Freunden. Durch Bacons unverwechselbare Methode der Deformation und Isolation seiner Figuren werden auch diese Bilder zu Chiffren. Exemplarisch erzählen sie von unserem Dasein: von der Zurückgeworfenheit auf uns selbst, von Unsicherheit und Angst, von Verhältnissen, die uns einengen und deformieren. Sie sind Blicke in einen Spiegel, vor denen viele zurückschrecken.

"Ich denke manchmal, wenn Leute sagen, mein Werk wirke gewalttätig, könnte es mir vielleicht gelungen sein, ab und zu einen oder zwei der Schleier oder Schutzschirme wegzunehmen. Denn wenn man jemandem etwas ganz unverblümt sagt, ist er manchmal beleidigt, auch wenn es tatsächlich so ist. Leute neigen dazu, sich von Tatsachen beleidigt zu fühlen, von dem, was man gewöhnlich die Wahrheit nennt."




El cuerpo y la sangre del siglo


Hoy se celebra el centenario del nacimiento de Francis Bacon, el pintor que mejor continuó la línea abierta por Picasso sobre la representación de la anatomía humana y que hizo de la muerte en vida su tema esencial



Pablo Bujalance / Málaga Hoy | Actualizado | 28.10.2009




En una escena de la obra teatral de Albert Camus Calígula, el atormentado emperador afirma lo siguiente: "Creía que en la desesperación se resentía el alma, pero no: es el cuerpo el que sufre". La sentencia recoge con certera precisión la esencia de la obra de Francis Bacon (Dublín, 1909 - Madrid, 1992), de cuyo nacimiento se cumplen hoy cien años. Consagrado como una verdadera estrella en el cambiante mundo de las cotizaciones, donde sus cuadros alcanzan cifras astronómicas (el Desnudo tumbado que puede verse actualmente en el Museo Reina Sofía de Madrid está valorado en 25 millones de euros, mientras que el magnate ruso Román Abramóvich pagó recientemente 54,5 millones de euros por el Tríptico 1976; la exposición que acogió el Museo del Prado entre febrero y abril de este año, que previamente se había exhibido en el Tate Modern de Londres con la colaboración del Metropolitan de Nueva York, estaba asegurada por el Estado en 1.252 millones de euros), conviene sin embargo al abrigo del aniversario reparar en el Francis Bacon hombre y artista, el mismo que continuó con toda la crudeza que fue capaz de albergar la línea que inició Picasso para la representación del cuerpo humano. Sus pinturas mantienen intacta la capacidad de conmocionar al que mira, como una acusación de culpabilidad: Margaret Tatcher se refirió a ellas como "asquerosos trozos de carne", y Alicia Koplowitz, según la leyenda, tiró por la borda un negocio redondo al deshacerse de uno de los cuadros de Bacon que había comprado, ya que verlo a diario en su casa le producía una perturbación demasiado aguda. De cualquier forma, esta producción dura y enigmática constituye una inestimable carta de presentación para el sangriento y doloroso siglo XX.

La infancia de Bacon resultó decisiva en la conformación de su obra. La mayor parte de la misma se desarrolló en Dublín, en el seno de una familia inglesa que decidió trasladarse a Londres en 1914, tras el estallido de la Primera Guerra Mundial. Su condición enfermiza (padecía un asma crónica, tratada con morfina, que le condenó a pasar largas temporadas en casa, sin asistir a la escuela) contribuyó a forjar la personalidad solitaria, esquiva y austera que le acompañó hasta su muerte. La revelación de su homosexualidad fue del todo traumática, ya que su padre lo expulsó de casa cuando comenzó a manifestar esta inclinación, a los 16 años. En 1927, mientras trabajaba como decorador de interiores entre París y Berlín, comenzó a pintar sus primeros cuadros.

La adscripción estética de Francis Bacon ha suscitado todo tipo de debates aún no resueltos. Buena parte de los críticos interpretan su obra en clave surrealista, mientras que otros apuntan una evolución de ésta al expresionismo. No faltan quienes prefieren vincularla al racionalismo, ni quienes consideran a su autor precursor e inspirador de los young british artists, como los hermanos Chapman y Damien Hirst, confeso admirador. El mismo Bacon se consideraba un pintor realista. En realidad, toda esta confusión obedece a la formación autodidacta que siguió el pintor, que únicamente recibió unas cuantas clases de dibujo en la St. Martin School of Arts de Londres en 1926. Su figuración es asombrosamente singular y personal, mientras que sus maestros auténticos le dieron las mejores lecciones en los museos: fue a raíz de la visita a una exposición de Picasso en París cuando decidió consagrarse a la pintura. Poussin, Munch y Velázquez (su serie inspirada en el Retrato de Inocencio X es uno de los emblemas del irlandés) acrecentaron esta vocación. Cuando se convirtió en una figura consagrada, visitaba a menudo el Museo del Prado (a menudo en largas sesiones privadas, con las instalaciones cerradas al público) para beber directamente de las musas. Pero el camino no fue fácil. El éxito y el reconocimiento tardaron en llegar y a los 35 años un airado Francis Bacon destrozó todos los cuadros que había pintado hasta entonces. La presentación del tríptico Tres estudios de figuras junto a una crucifixión en 1944 supuso un radical punto de inflexión, hasta el punto de que ya entonces fue considerado una de las obras de arte más originales del siglo.

La vida cotidiana de Bacon, sumida en el desorden de su estudio y sin apenas presencia pública, con una apariencia de apacible rutina a pesar de que las cotizaciones de sus cuadros no dejaban de crecer, contrastó con su huracán sentimental: su gran amor, George Dyer, se suicidó en 1971 por una ingesta de barbitúricos. Mantuvo después una relación más estable con John Edwards, heredero de su legado artístico y económico, aunque no le faltaron aventuras como las propiciadas por un amante español llamado José que complementaban las visitas al Museo del Prado. Su corazón fue a menudo un infierno. Hasta que dejó de latir, como en una eucaristía de carne y hueso.





Francis Bacon

Die Schönheit des Schreckens


Wenn Pablo Picasso das Bildgenie des 20. Jahrhunderts war, dann muss ihm in der zweiten Jahrhunderthälfte Francis Bacon zur Seite gestellt werden. Zum 100. 

Geburtstag des englischen Malers.



Von Peter von Becker, Tagesspiegel, 28.10.2009



Was die Kunst seit allen Zeiten am meisten mit der Realität und dem Leben verbindet, ist ausgerechnet ihr fantastischer Sinn für das Grausige und Grausame. Kriege, Verbrechen, blutige Leidenschaften sind ihr Höchstes und bezeugen zugleich etwas zutiefst Menschliches. Das gilt von der „Ilias“, den antiken Tragödien, den Tempelreliefs der Mayas oder den Märtyrer-Folterbildern, den Kreuzigungen der christlichen Kunstgeschichte – bis hin zu zwei jüngsten filmischen Meisterwerken, Quentin Tarantinos Inglorious Basterds und Michael Hanekes Das weiße Band.

Das Böse ist allemal faszinierender als das Brave und Gute, nur der Konflikt ist dramatisch, nicht die reine Harmonie. Die Ästhetik des Schreckens, die immer neu fingierte Schönheit des Fürchterlichen freilich unterscheidet die Kunst auch vom Leben: weil die leibhaftige Qual, weil das wirkliche Leidantun vor allem dumpf, brutal und widerlich sind.

Eben dieses Paradoxon der Kunst und des Kunstgenusses (die Lust am Bild des Schreckens) hat wohl kein anderer Artist der Moderne in seinen Werken so unerbittlich und unwiderstehlich verkörpert wie der heute vor 100 Jahren in Dublin geborene und 1992 in Madrid gestorbene englische Maler Francis Bacon. Wenn Pablo Picasso das Bildgenie des 20. Jahrhunderts war, dann muss man ihm in der zweiten Jahrhunderthälfte Francis Bacon zur Seite stellen.

Der Maler des aufgerissenen Fleisches und der zerfetzten Körper, der auch im Bild des Selbstmords bereits die Explosionen der heutigen Selbstmordattentäter vorausgesehen zu haben schien, er ist heute mit seinen Großwerken im Kunsthandel ein 100-Millionen-Dollar-Fall. Und immer hat er auf die ästhetische Form höchsten Wert gelegt, bis zum Äußersten und (vermeintlich nur) Äußerlichen: Seine Szenerien von Blut und Glut sind absichtlich hinter kühles Glas gesetzt, wie sonst nur viel ältere, unersetzliche Meisterwerke, zudem hat er sie in vergoldete Rahmen gehängt. Bacon war sich der hiermit gesteigerten und zugleich kontrollierten Wirkung seines Oeuvres immer bewusst. Er suchte die Schönheit, nicht den Ekel, auch wenn seine bühnenhaften Tableaux oft grausigen Tatorten gleichen. Wobei Täter, Opfer und Zuschauer auch zu Detektiven werden: auf der eigenen Spur.

Schon als Kind erfährt der 1909 geborene Francis, mit seiner (britischen) Familie zwischen Irland und England wechselnd, Weltkrieg und Bürgerkrieg, seine Brüder sterben früh, und der Vater ist ein Pferdetrainer und roher Mann. Mit 18 Jahren geht der Schulabbrecher von London nach Berlin zu einem obskuren Onkel – und erlebt 1927 als frühreifer Streuner jenes Berlin der katzengoldenen, schrillen Roaring Twenties: voller Gewalt und Leidenschaften, Elend und Glitter, Halbwelt und Dekadenz. Es ist das politisch, sexuell, kulturell abgründige „Cabaret“-Berlin, das sein Landsmann Christopher Isherwood beschrieben hat.

Noch im selben Jahr 1927 reist Bacon aber weiter nach Paris und begegnet dort in der Galerie des Kunsthändlers Paul Rosenberg erstmals Bildern von Pablo Picasso. Es sind kubistisch aufgespaltene, vieldeutige Gesichter und Gestalten, die auf die nackte bizarre Form von Knochen, durchbrochenem Gestein oder magischen Strünken reduziert und verdichtet wirken. Für Francis Bacon, den alsbald bekennenden Trinker, Spieler, Homosexuellen und Gelegenheitsarbeiter wird das zum lebensentscheidenden Schock. Wird zur Erweckung seines schier unheimlichen und später als völliger Autodidakt ausgebildeten Talents.

Wissen ist Macht. Francis Bacon, der Philosoph und Shakespeare-Zeitgenosse, hat den berühmten Satz geprägt. Und sein gleichnamiger familiärer Nachfahre hat zumindest von der Macht des Bösen so viel gewusst, dass er davon sein visionäres Zeugnis ablegen sollte.

Um zu überleben, entwirft Bacon zunächst Teppiche und Möbel, er malt nebenher und ab 1933 stellt er in London erste Bilder aus, fast ohne Resonanz. Exzessiv und zugleich extrem kritisch, wie er war, hat Bacon 1943 fast sein gesamtes Frühwerk vernichtet. Nur 15 Bilder sind aus jener Zeit erhalten, und als sein Debüt galt ihm selbst das Triptychon „Drei Studien für Figuren am Fuß einer Kreuzigung von 1944.

Drei Öltafeln gleich einem weltlichen Altar, doch ohne fortlaufenden erzählerischen Kontext, sondern in gegenseitiger motivischer Spannung: das wird Bacons Spezialität. Schon die ersten drei „Figuren“ sind, auf blutorangenem Grund, in einem von geometrischen Linien bezeichneten Raum verkrümmte, arm-, bein- und augenlose Menschenwesen mit hündischen Köpfen, beherrscht vom aufgerissenen Gebiss und einem kreatürlichen Schrei.

Solche Bilder machen bald Furore. Gegen den Trend zur allgemeinen Abstraktion hält Bacon am letzten, existentiellen Ausdruck des Figürlichen, des Menschen-Bilds fest. Nach 1945 ist er der Künstler, der – ohne politische Botschaft und stärker selbst als Picasso mit „Guernica“ – ins Bewusstsein rückt, dass selbst Auschwitz menschenmöglich war. Als er schon berühmt ist, nennt er die abstrakte Malerei eine schier formale Kunst, ohne innere Spannung und Dramatik, bestenfalls bediene sie „lyrische Empfindungen“. Inzwischen ist Bacon, dessen mit dem Farbschwamm virtuos verwischten Gesichter und Gesichte weder naiv naturalistische noch dekorativ surrealistische Sehnsüchte stillen, zum Heros fast aller gegenständlichen Kunst geworden, nicht zuletzt auch der Maler um Neo Rauch und der Leipziger Schule.

Am Abend oder Vorabend großer Retrospektiven sind Bacons engste Freunde (und Modelle) an Drogen oder durch Selbstmord gestorben. Das ist ebenso beschrieben worden wie Bacons Verhältnis zu Velázquez, dessen Porträt von Papst Innozenz X. zum Vorbild des vielfach variierten „Schreienden Papstes“ wurde.

Aus Anlass des 100. Geburtstages liegt jetzt auch zur weniger beleuchteten Verbindung von Picasso und Bacon der materialreiche Katalogband des Pariser Musée Picasso auf Deutsch vor. Und der Berliner Parthas Verlag erhellt Bacon in einem kleinen, empfehlenswerten Buch, das neben berühmten Essays etwa von Arnold Gehlen, Gilles Deleuze oder Michel Leiris (den Bacon porträtierte) ein fabelhaftes, hier erstmals übersetztes Interview der Schriftstellerin Marguerite Duras mit dem Maler aus dem Jahr 1971 enthält. Wie sonst nur in seinen früher schon publizierten Gesprächen mit dem Kritiker und Vertrauten David Sylvester beschreibt Bacon darin fast neurologisch präzise das Geheimnis künstlerisch reflektierter Spontaneität.

Bacon Picasso. Das Leben der Bilder. Hrsg. Anne Baldassari, Musée Picasso. Éditions Flammarion (Vertrieb Prestel Verlag), Paris 2009. 240 Seiten, 49, 90 €.

Francis Bacon. Ein Malerleben in Texten und Interviews. Hg. von Dino Heicker. Par- thas Verlag, Berlin 2009. 335 Seiten, 24 €.

(Erschienen im gedruckten Tagesspiegel vom 28.10.2009)



All dieses Fleisch, all diese Dramen



Von Georg Imdahl, Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger 28.10.09





Vor hundert Jahren wurde der Maler Francis Bacon geboren. Aus diesem Anlass eine Bildbetrachtung seines Kölner Painting 1946, das in seiner zweiten Version im Museum Ludwig hängt.



Francis Bacon hielt sein Bild mit dem schlichten Titel Painting selbst für eine der wichtigsten Arbeiten seines gesamten Oeuvres. 1946, kurz nach dem Krieg, hatte er die groteske Schlachtung in Szene gesetzt - mit einer kaum erkennbaren, monströsen Figur im Schlagschatten eines aufgespannten Regenschirms, kauernd vor einem ebenfalls aufgespannten Rind. Bacon platzierte dies alles in einem seltsamen Interieur, das er mit einem bunten Teppich vor einem magentafarbenen Hintergrund ausstattete; damit schuf er eine massige Komposition, die perspektivisch drangvoll nach innen fluchtet. Die bizarre Szenerie ist überreich an Deutungsmöglichkeiten und gerade deshalb im Kern so rätselhaft - vielleicht überzeugte sie den Museumsmann Alfred Barr aus diesem Grund so sehr, dass er das ungewöhnliche Bild drei Jahre nach seiner Entstehung für das Museum of Modern Art ankaufte. Barr begründete so den frühen Ruhm Bacons.

Bedroht, geopfert, geschlachtet

Ein Vierteljahrhundert später schuf Bacon jenes Gemälde noch einmal: Painting 1946 (Second Version), heute im Museum Ludwig. Mag sich der geschlachtete Ochse auch mühelos auf das Vorbild Rembrandts zurückführen lassen, er bleibt in der Kombination mit dem Mann unterm Schirm vor dem Rind hermetisch und unergründlich - eben programmatisch für den heute vor hundert Jahren geborenen Existenzialisten unter den Malern des 20. Jahrhunderts: Painting ist Sinnbild eines katastrophischen Säkulums. Jene 25 Jahre, die zwischen den Fassungen liegen, bekunden sich bereitwillig in der jüngeren: Die Flächen sind geklärt und schneiden sich nun scharfkantig in den Raum, sind von der Farbfeldmalerei und Pop aufgehellt, schnittig dynamisieren sie die Komposition. Je älter er werde, desto formaler arbeite er, bemerkte Bacon gegenüber dem Kunsthistoriker David Sylvester.

In der Tat wirkt das Kölner Bild aufgeräumter, gelassener, kühler als die New Yorker Urfassung, erscheint der männliche Protagonist weniger dämonisch, und doch ist auch dieses Gemälde noch beherrscht vom Dreiklang aus Bedrohung, Schlachtung, Opferung, den Bacon wie kein anderer mit Leben und Schicksal erfüllt hat.

Geboren 1909 als Sohn eines Pferdezüchters in Dublin, hatte der Vater dem 16-Jährigen die Tür gewiesen, als er dessen Homosexualität erkannte. Dieser selbst setzte sich ab, später auch nach Berlin, wo er, nach eigenem Bekunden, sein „erotisches Gymnasium“ besuchte. Der Autodidakt malt zeit seines Lebens nach kunsthistorischen Vorbildern, allen voran nach Velazquez; niemand in seiner Zeit hat aber auch Picasso und den Kubismus so konsequent weitergedacht und das Prinzip der Deformation so gnadenlos auf das (eigene) Dasein übertragen. In diesem Frühjahr widmete der Prado ihm in Madrid eine nicht einmal überwältigend umfangreiche, aber famos bestückte Retrospektive, die sich im Wesentlichen auf die Triptychen konzentrierte - es war Bacons erste große Ausstellung in Spanien. Kurz nach einem Besuch der Velazquez-Ausstellung im Prado war Bacon 1992 einem Herzschlag erlegen. Was expressiv bedeutet, lässt sich an diesem Oeuvre, dem malträtierten Fleisch, der ganzen Gewalt des Faktischen und dem entstellten Antlitz des Jahrhunderts authentisch studieren.



Bacon, recordado a 100 años de su nacimiento


Bajo el título Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective


La muestra Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective recorrió Londres, Madrid y Nueva York para celebrar el natalicio del destacado pintor irlandés


El Informador, Martes, 27 de Octubre de 2009



   El pintor fue uno de los artistas figuristas más relevantes del siglo XX



MADRID, ESPAÑA.- El pintor irlandés Francis Bacon (1909-1992) cumpliría mañana cien años, una efeméride por la que el artista, cuyas obras han batido récords en las casas de subastas de los últimos años, fue homenajeado este año con una retrospectiva que recorrió Londres, Madrid y Nueva York.

Bajo el título Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective (Francis Bacon: Una retrospectiva centenaria) recorrió estas tres capitales y permaneció expuesta con material inédito en la ciudad de los rascacielos hasta el pasado 16 de agosto.

La primera muestra de esa retrospectiva, que reúne alrededor de 70 de sus obras que datan de varias etapas de su carrera, tuvo lugar en el museo Tate Britain de Londres a finales de 2008, lo que supuso que fuera la primera que se dedicase en el Reino Unido a Bacon desde 1985.

Seguidamente la retrospectiva viajó al Museo del Prado de Madrid, donde permaneció expuesta del 3 de febrero al pasado 19 de abril, y atrajo la atención de miles de visitantes.

Esta exposición, que fue asegurada por el Estado español en mil 252 millones de euros, incluía piezas que abarcaban casi medio siglo de creación continua, una actividad que se vio interrumpida por el mortal ataque cardíaco que el artista sufrió en la capital española y falleció el 28 de abril de 1992.

Admirador de la pinacoteca madrileña y de los grandes maestros españoles, especialmente de Diego Velázquez y Francisco de Goya, Bacon entró por la puerta grande del museo con 78 obras.

Entre esas piezas se hallaban dieciséis de sus trípticos más importantes, uno de ellos que data de 1984 sólo pudo ser visto en Madrid y no fue mostrado en Londres ni tampoco en Nueva York.

Tras El Prado, la retrospectiva comisariada en memoria del centenario del natalicio del pintor, concluyó su periplo en el Metropolitan de Nueva York, donde también se aportó material inédito y documentos sobre la trayectoria profesional del artista.

Francis Bacon fue uno de los artistas figuristas más relevantes del siglo XX y en calidad de autodidacta no asistió nunca a ninguna escuela de arte.

Sus inicios en la pintura están marcados por el surrealismo como muestra la obra Crucifixión (1933), pero progresivamente derivó al expresionismo, dentro del cual es considerado como máximo exponente de la escuela inglesa.

El artista plasmó en su obra el dolor, la angustia, la muerte y el sexo, ya que, como expresara en cierta ocasión: "Cuando se es fiel a la vida, se es inevitablemente macabro porque finalmente se nace para morir".

Nacido en Dublín en el seno de una familia inglesa, el artista no tuvo una infancia fácil. Padecía de asma crónica y con 16 años fue expulsado de casa por su padre tras haberle confesado sus inclinaciones homosexuales.

Su carácter le llevó a destruir, a la edad de 35 años y cuando todavía no había logrado el reconocimiento de su obra, la mayoría de sus cuadros, y fue en 1944, al acabar Tres estudios de figuras junto a una crucifixión, cuando le llegó la aceptación de la crítica.



Un homenajeado y cotizado Bacon cumpliría mañana cien años


El pintor irlandés Francis Bacon (1909-1992) cumpliría mañana, 28 de octubre, cien años, una efeméride por la que el artista, cuyas obras se cotizan al alza, es homenajeado con exposiciones en distintos países.


TeleCinco | Agencia EFE | 27.10.09 


El pintor irlandés Francis Bacon (1909-1992) habría cumplido mañana, 28 de octubre, cien años, una efeméride por la que el artista es homenajeado con exposiciones en distintos países. En la imagen de archivo (Madrid, 30/01/09) tríptico de 1962 Tres estudios para una Crucifixión, que formó parte de una retrospectiva sobre el pintor organizada por el Museo del Prado.



Con motivo del centenario de su nacimiento, la galería Tate Britain de Londres dedicó a finales de 2008 una gran retrospectiva -la primera dedicada a Bacon en el Reino Unido desde 1985- con 70 obras suyas realizadas en distintas etapas de su trayectoria.

Francis Bacon, reconocido como uno de los grandes pintores de figuras humanas del siglo XX, fue autodidacta al no asistir nunca a ninguna escuela de arte.

Sus inicios en la pintura fueron surrealistas, como muestra la obra Crucifixión (1933), pero progresivamente derivó al expresionismo, dentro del cual es considerado como máximo exponente de la escuela inglesa, y supo captar de forma visceral y desgarrada aspectos de la vida humana como la sexualidad o la violencia.

Bacon, que falleció en Madrid el 28 de abril de 1992, recurrió a elementos como el dolor, la angustia, la muerte y el sexo para realizar su obra, si bien él mismo se declaraba realista, y no tanto expresionista, y manifestó en cierta ocasión: "Cuando se es fiel a la vida, se es inevitablemente macabro porque finalmente se nace para morir".

La muestra de la Tate Britain viajó al Museo del Prado, la pinacoteca madrileña que guarda la obra de los dos artistas más admirados por el artista: Velázquez y Goya, donde permaneció entre el 3 de febrero y el pasado 19 de abril, y donde fue visitada por miles de personas al coincidir con las vacaciones de Semana Santa.

Esta exposición, asegurada por el Estado en 1.252 millones de euros, incluía obras que abarcaban casi medio siglo de creación continua, una actividad que se vio interrumpida por el fatal ataque cardíaco que el artista sufrió en Madrid.

Admirador del Prado y de los grandes maestros españoles, especialmente Velázquez y Goya, Bacon entró por la puerta grande del museo con 78 obras entre las que se encontraban dieciséis de sus trípticos más importantes, uno de ellos realizado en 1984 que no había viajado a Londres ni tampoco lo hizo posteriormente a Nueva York.

La muestra de homenaje al centenario de Bacon concluyó su itinerario el pasado verano en el Metropolitan de Nueva York, donde los cuadros se completaron con material inédito y documentos sobre la trayectoria profesional del artista.

Francis Bacon, nacido en Dublín en el seno de una familia inglesa, no tuvo una infancia fácil. Padecía asma crónica, y con 16 años fue expulsado de casa por su padre tras haberle confesado sus inclinaciones homosexuales.

Su carácter imposible le llevó a destruir, a la edad de 35 años y cuando todavía no había logrado el reconocimiento de su obra, la mayoría de sus cuadros, y fue en 1944, al acabar Tres estudios de figuras junto a una crucifixión, cuando le llegó la aceptación de la crítica.

En España son tres los museos que cuentan con obras de Bacon: el Thyssen-Bornemisza de Madrid (George Dayer en un espejo), el Reina Sofía de Madrid (Desnudo tumbado) y el Bellas Artes de Bilbao (Figura recostada ante un espejo).



   Semanario: Bacon, el crucificado 



     Jesús R. Cedillo, Vanguardia (México), 26 Octubre 2009


     El joven pintor que fue echado de su casa cuando su padre lo encontró, a los 16 años, modelando la ropa interior de su madre frente al espejo.

Vivió 83 años. Demasiados, creo yo, tomando en cuenta su frágil condición física, una emperrada asma que le persiguió toda su vida y su involucramiento desde la más temprana edad de adolescente, en cuestiones homosexuales que a la postre fueron su virtud y su condena, su leitmotiv para pintar y crear; pero también su desgarrada existencia cotidiana, que dejó plasmada en sus poderosos cuadros.

Su arte cruel, duro, sin concesiones, desgarrador la mayor parte del tiempo, le valió la siguiente crítica de Margaret Tachter, la ex primera Ministra británica: “(sus pinturas son) asquerosos trozos de carne.” Esos trozos asquerosos de carne, se cotizan en millones de euros al día de hoy y están en las más prestigiadas galerías del mundo y en manos de coleccionistas privados. Es el arte salido de la pluma, el pincel y los fantasmas de Francis Bacon (1909-1992), artista irlandés por nacimiento, pero de fuerte vena inglesa al formarse allí y no en otro lugar del mundo. En este 2009 se cumplen 100 años de su nacimiento.

Las fotografías lo muestran con un rostro como si fuese un muégano retorcido. Ese dulce mexicano que lo mismo adquiere formas de momia, que de charro, pasando por toda una suerte de personajes que la imaginación puede dar y moldear al ver esos trozos de caramelo, endurecidos contra sí mismos. Las fotografías lo retratan vestido sobriamente, siempre en el caos bien organizado de su estudio. En uno de estos retratos que tengo del pintor Francis Bacon, este viste una cazadora de piel ceñida a su cuerpo. Sentado y viendo de frente a la inquisidora cámara fotográfica, asoman sus botas perfectamente lustradas. Mirada fiera, de águila, mientras sus manos se encuentran y se protegen una a otra. No es extraño que sus pies estén pisando algunas de sus obras que ahora son impagables.

El taller de trabajo de Bacon era el caos y el desorden vivo. Se cuenta que el pintor solía desechar bastante de su trabajo previo o ya terminado, si este no le satisfacía. En cierta ocasión fue un electricista a realizar alguna reparación menor. Salió de la casa del pintor con un grueso legajo bajo el brazo con obras artísticas. Este se las había regalado por no mostrarse satisfecho con ellas. Décadas después, dichas piezas fueron subastadas alcanzando cifras estratosféricas.

Fue tan mítico el Taller del artista y su caos y desorden artísticos, que éste fue donado por su heredero y último amante, John Edwards, al Museo Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery de Dublin. El taller donde trabajaba cotidianamente el artista fue desmontado y trasladado tal cual a dicho museo.

Los que saben de escuelas y academias, han apuntado que la obra de Bacon goza de tres influencias identificables a largo de sus etapas como pintor: los trazos bien medidos del mejor Edvard Munch, los colores y tonalidades ya célebres de Vincent Van Gogh y la angustia asifixiante de Francisco de Goya. Asoma también Velázquez. Pero de todos es conocido que Bacon empezó una serie de dibujos y acuarelas (sus pinitos en serio) cuando visitó una exposición de Pablo Picasso.

Damas y caballeros, la vida del pintor siempre estuvo en el límite. Si Thatcher lo crucificó al enderezarle que sus pinturas eran sólo “asquerosos trozos de carne”, no menos laceraciones, dolor y flagelo sufrió Bacon, cuando George Dyer, su amante, se suicidó con barbitúricos en 1971. Este tenía una relación “estable” con el artista desde 1964, cuando lo “conoció” robando su taller. A su joven amante John Edwards le heredaría sus bienes valorados, según cifras conservadoras, en 11 millones de libras.

Pero, la tercera crucifixión ha quedado en la historia del arte: su tríptico Tres estudios de figuras junto a una crucifixión, es considerado uno de los cuadros más originales en la pintura del siglo XX. Otro tríptico pintado por él en 1976 fue pagado en 55 millones de euros. Y pensar que el joven pintor fue echado de su casa, cuando su padre lo encontró a los 16 años modelando la ropa interior de su madre frente al espejo. Bacon, el crucificado.


     Unveiling the myths of Bacon



          AIDAN DUNNE, The Irish Times, Saturday, October 24, 2009



            Setting the scene: preparations for Francis Bacon; A Terrible Beauty at the Hugh Lane Gallery.



His London studio has been in Dublin for some years, but a new centenary exhibition of paintings and archive material explores Francis Bacon's influences and tragedies, and helps re-evaluate the artist.

LATE IN OCTOBER 1971, just a few days short of his 62nd birthday, the painter Francis Bacon was in Paris, where the president, Georges Pompidou, had decided to personally open a retrospective of his work at the Grand Palais. The presidential imprimatur, the prestigious venue and the scale of the exhibition amounted to an extraordinary accolade for Bacon. And, although he habitually made light of just about everything, he was enormously pleased. Not least, the event finally put him on a par with the artist who, more than any other, he saw as the figure he had to measure himself against: Pablo Picasso. Picasso had been similarly feted in the Grand Palais a few years earlier.

Contemporary accounts note that Bacon was in ebullient form, and seemed to genuinely revel in the fuss and the attention. There was a lot of attention: the great and the good turned out in their droves to attend the opening. As the artist’s biographer Michael Peppiatt records, the evening was crowned with a banquet in the ornately decorated brasserie Le Train Bleu in the Gare de Lyon, organised – and indeed paid for – by Sonia Orwell, Zette Leiris and Marguerite Duras.  



In the Hugh Lane Gallery’s exhibition Francis Bacon: A Terrible Beauty, opening next week, you can trace a surprisingly detailed account of that evening through photographs taken at the time. In one image, caught at a quiet moment, Bacon looks thoughtful, slightly withdrawn from the throng. We don’t know what was on his mind, but it’s reasonable to guess that he was thinking about his lover, George Dyer. The previous evening, while Bacon was out doing an interview about his exhibition, Dyer had killed himself in their room at the Hôtel des Saints-Pères.

News of Dyer’s death was not released immediately, but by the time of the banquet the next night, word had spread. The confluence of events was extraordinary and distressing in many ways. For one thing, on the opening day of his Tate Gallery retrospective almost 10 years earlier, Bacon had learned of the death of his ex-lover, Peter Lacy, in Morocco. He had been rejected by Lacy, and had been absolutely devastated by the news of his demise. At the same time, he seemed to think Lacy’s sad end was almost calculated to detract from his enjoyment of his own success.

Now, at perhaps the crowning moment of his career, in Paris, the same thing had happened with Dyer. Professional, public triumph was inextricably linked to, and symbolically eclipsed by, personal disaster. More, life was uncomfortably imitative of art. Commentators on Bacon’s retrospective at the Grand Palais could not help but note the work’s preoccupation with emotional and physical extremity. It depicted a world of personal cruelty, isolation and despair. At the same time, while the imagery, in its level of distortion and vehemence, its rawness, suggested something extreme and unusual, something beyond the comfort of familiarity, what lent Bacon’s work its exceptional power was the fact that his subject was in fact nothing more than ordinary, everyday life.  



BY BACON’S OWN account, at the time of the Grand Palais exhibition he and Dyer were no longer even close. Their relationship, always acrimonious, had foundered some time previously. Yet, just as Lacy became an important, stubborn presence in Bacon’s work after his death, so Dyer too became a central preoccupation in a series of works that culminated in a chilling triptych, re-enacting the circumstances of his death. Bacon was clearly not without feelings, and there is immense affection as well as cruelty in the painting. But he could not have been a great artist without possessing a streak of utter ruthlessness that enabled him to take the most painful aspects of his own and others’ experience and lay them bare on canvas. It would be wrong to suppose, though, that his work was always as painfully autobiographical as were the pictures about Dyer’s suicide.

Francis Bacon: A Terrible Beauty goes some way to illuminating the links between the personal and the public in Bacon’s art and world.

The show could be subtitled “Unpacking the Studio” in that much of what is arranged on the walls and in vitrines forms part of the 7,000-plus items that came with Bacon’s studio when it was delivered to the Hugh Lane in 1998, having been comprehensively surveyed and recorded. Much of the archival material, and his Reece Mews home, has been superbly documented and explored in publications by Margarita Cappock, Martin Harrison (who co-curated the new exhibition with Hugh Lane director Barbara Dawson), photographer Perry Ogden and others.  



The exhibition marks the centenary of Bacon’s birth and is the most extensive display derived from the archive since its acquisition. In effect, as in elaborating on the opening at the Grand Palais, it also sets up a dialogue between Bacon’s life, his work practices and the paintings he produced. From the moment it was announced that the Bacon studio was to come to Dublin, the implicit question has been whether actual paintings would follow in its wake. The studio, the undoubted wealth of its research material notwithstanding, is a bit like Hamlet without the prince in the absence of a representative collection of paintings by Bacon to set alongside it.

While it would certainly have been nice if the studio had come with such a stock of paintings in tow, that was never on the cards. Huge financial interests are involved. There are unfinished paintings, generally very unfinished in the sense that they look as if they were never destined to be finished. Several of these are on view. There are also many destroyed canvases. They have been described as “slashed canvases” which sounds quite dramatic, as if the artist set about them in a fit of rage. In fact, slashed canvases in that sense are very rare. Usually Bacon hacked out sections of an abandoned work, presumably to use them in another context. A whole room is given over to the display of canvases with excised sections. The effect is odd, because clearly it was never intended that they would be exhibited in this way. But it allows conservator Joanna Shepard a chance to investigate Bacon’s working methods in detail, and she provides an explanatory commentary.



                                    Half-length Figure in Sea 1952 Francis Bacon


To make up for the paucity of Bacon paintings in Irish collections, reinforcements have been drafted in from several sources, including the artist’s estate, private collections, the Tate Gallery and the Ulster Museum. Many of these works are outstanding, and hardly any is an obvious choice. The strange, dark-lit Untitled (Half-length Figure in Sea), for example is credited to Damien Hirst's personal Murderme collection: fascinating given its similarities to Hirst's recent paintings, now on view at the Wallace Collection in London. Head III and Head of a Woman, also from private collections, are classic portrait heads, as is Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, of late in a collection here in Ireland, now part of Christie’s stock. It’s a shame such a perfect little painting could not have stayed in the country permanently.

A whole room is given over to plates from Eadweard Muybridge’s The Human Figure in Motion, which Bacon – and, it must be said, countless other artists, used extensively as references. Harrison is an authority on art and photography, and his book In Camera is an exhaustive and informative account of Bacon’s use of a vast range of photographic sources, including original photographs of friends, lovers and acquaintances, often commissioned from John Deakin (a room in the exhibition is given over to them), as well as mechanically reproduced images from magazines, art history books, medical textbooks and just about anything that caught his eye.

WE ARE WELL into a re-evaluation of the myth of Francis Bacon, which tended to downplay the role of photography and simply deny the use of preparatory drawings. Around 40 of the latter turned up in the studio, but in a way they confirm Bacon’s protestations. The sketches are minimal and rudimentary, more notes or memory aids than drawings in the usual sense. But on the other hand you could say that photographs, both original and reproduced, were his preparatory drawings, and they were absolutely vital to what he did. He collected and consumed them voraciously; editing, tearing, shaping and distorting them to create his own images.

This is one conclusion that emerges unmistakably from A Terrible Beauty. There was a time when artists couldn’t admit to using photographs in this way but, as David Hockney observed in his book Hidden Knowledge, painters have generally used any and every available means to make their work, and now photography is widely used and accepted. The exhibition should also deepen awareness of the relationship between life and art, and it’s hard to emerge from it without getting some sense of Bacon’s personal difficulties and tragedies, as well as his extraordinary resourcefulness, industry and inventiveness as an artist.  


Francis Bacon: A Terrible Beauty is at the Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane, from October 28th to March 7th, 2010. 

Tel. 01-2225550



   International Art Festival debuts in Tel Aviv


    By David Brinn, The Jerusalem Post, 





Any film festival that brings together homages to Francis Bacon and Merce Cunningham, hosts a descendant of Felix Mendelssohn and presents a master class by self-confessed art geek Ben Lewis deserves to be called eclectic - or EPOS, the first International Art Film Festival, which will take place October 29-31 at the Tel Aviv Cinemateque.

Festival directors Micky Laron and Gidi Avivi are presenting over 40 local and international documentary and feature films on music, dance, literature and poetry; art and theater. In addition, the festival will host special guests and present events, including an evening dedicated to Pina Bausch and Merce Cunningham, the great choreographers who passed away this year, and commemorations of the 200th anniversary of Mendelssohn's birth and the 100th anniversary of the British painter Bacon's birth.

Controversial American art critic and filmmaker Lewis, who prides himself on having been booted out of the famed Sotheby's auction house, will offer a master class entitled: Art Safari: The Tantrums, Tears and Traumas of making Art Documentaries, in which he will explain the inner workings of making cult documentary films on the subject of contemporary art, focusing on his own feature The Great Contemporary Art Bubble.

In collaboration with the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, on October 31 the festival will present an homage to Bacon's 100th birthday, featuring a lecture by Tal Lanir, Fragment of a Crucifixion - The Art of Francis Bacon, and a screening of the film Francis Bacon, which follows a day in the life of the painter. The event will take place at the museum. 

Time will also be set aside at the festival on October 29 to focus on films made by students at films schools and art colleges around the country.

For a full schedule of films and events and to order tickets, go to






Francis Bacon: La vida como obsesión







                        Francis Bacon  1973  by Peter Stark



E N abril cerró sus puertas la exposición antológica, primera desde su muerte en 1992, que el Museo del Prado dedicó a Francis Bacon. Ahora se cumple el centenario del nacimiento del artista irlandés, y su figura alcanza ahora la categoría de ídolo de multitudes, de artista que nos refleja con el ensañamiento del espejo y la explicitud de la sangre. Como si el gusto común por Van Gogh se hubiera desplazado hacia Bacon, que en el Prado, un lugar que amó, recibió la visita de muchedumbres fascinadas por el espectáculo cruel de sus pinturas detrás de las cuales puede anidar tanto la rabia como la compasión. Cien años de Bacon. Cien años de horror, de poesía, de carne dolorida.


Nacido en Dublín el 28 de octubre de 1909, de madre irlandesa y padre australiano aunque de origen inglés que había luchado en la guerra de los Bóer y que se dedicaría a entrenar caballos de carreras. Que su nombre coincida con el de un filósofo y político inglés de los siglos XVI-XVII se explica también por el hecho de que su padre descendía de un hermano del personaje histórico. Por otra parte, su tatarabuela, lady Charlotte Harley, fue amiga de Lord Byron y a ella está dedicado su poema El peregrinaje de Childe Harold.


Aquejado desde la niñez por asma y una potente alergia hacia los perros y caballos (recuérdese el oficio del padre), la morfina fue una constante en su tratamiento y a la vez una adicción. La salud influyó en su irregular formación académica, plena de ausencias, que también se vería drásticamente afectada a los 16 años por la expulsión del hogar familiar, cuando ya vivían en Inglaterra tras la Primera Guerra Mundial, al quedar al descubierto su homosexualidad brutalmente rechazada por el padre. Detrás quedaba una infancia triste, marcada por las oscilaciones de la residencia entre Irlanda e Inglaterra, con la brújula detenida a partir de 1925 en Inglaterra y marcada por tutores y preceptores en vez de por la escuela.


Londres, 1926


1926 y Londres son el año y el lugar en que confluyen las circunstancias que determinarán al artista en que Bacon habrá de convertirse. Los apuros económicos que le llevaron a trabajar brevemente como criado y dependiente de tienda, su decisión de dejarse ayudar por un hombre mayor a cambio de favores sexuales, además de cometer pequeños hurtos para mantenerse, nos muestran a alguien que se va deslizando hacia el submundo londinense, pero a la vez es alguien que viaja a París y Berlín quedándose por largos periodos de aprendizaje y zozobra, que recibe clases de dibujo y se decanta por dedicarse a la decoración de interiores. En estos años cruciales de la década de 1920, nace el artista Bacon.


Según el propio Bacon, autodidacta en el uso del pincel pero no en el del lápiz, fue Picasso, con una exposición de dibujos visitada en París en 1927, el que le hizo intuir que él también podría ser artista. Las formas surrealistas de Picasso contempladas en un número de Cahiers d'Art en 1929 terminarán de afirmar su vocación. Más allá, y yendo a la manera de afrontar la creación, Bacon reconocía su filiación con Picasso, a través del que se comprenden mejor las distorsiones presentes en uno y otro: «Existe un dominio que Picasso ha abierto y que, en cierto sentido, no ha sido explotado: una forma orgánica que se acerca a la imagen humana, pero que está en completa distorsión».


Fuente de inspiración


En París recibe también, de forma insospechada, una de sus fuentes de inspiración más patentes: un libro sobre enfermedades de la piel le proporciona estímulos estéticos: «Me gusta el brillo y los colores de la boca y siempre he deseado pintar la boca de la misma manera que Monet pintaba las puestas de sol».


Tras haber sido saludado por Wyndham Lewis, padre de la vanguardia británica con palabras mayores («uno de los artistas más poderosos que hay hoy en Europa... en perfecta sintonía con su tiempo»), una primera exposición individual en 1934, recibida con notoria indiferencia, le llevará a desdeñar el arte, a aplacar su pasión hasta casi abandonar los pinceles. Autorretratos y apuntes de su tema obsesivo, la crucifixión, predominan en estos momentos iniciales. Pero poco se ha conservado de lo pintado por Bacon en sus primeros años: una crisis personal en 1944, cuando apenas era un autodidacta destinado al fracaso, destruyó cuanto conservaba. Es también el instante en que renace como creador: mientras pisa los cascotes de los bombardeos en Londres, prestando servicio en la Defensa Civil, siente el dolor y la rabia unidos a la fragilidad de la materia. No hay paso atrás: a partir de ese instante, Bacon será el retratista de la angustia, de la mortalidad.


En 1944 es su tríptico Tres estudios de figuras al pie de una crucifixión, hoy en la Tate Gallery, el que señala el nacimiento no del artista sino del genio. Las tres figuras torturadas y monstruosas, irreales pero habitadas de una desesperación y un dolor demasiado verdaderos sobre un fondo vacío y rojo anuncian las escenografías de las décadas posteriores, los espacios vacíos en los que la carne se consume en gestos cotidianos.


Bacon se entregará a la pintura con voracidad: las imágenes de su estudio mostrarán un maremágnum de tela y de papeles arrojados por todas partes, manchados de pintura, imágenes de caos y desorden, un estercolero en el que un hombre se enfrenta al lienzo para emerger con tesoros que los museos lucharán por cuidar. Entre la basura que pisa Bacon hay fotografías recortadas de periódicos y de revistas, de folletos y de libros de arte, que el artista ha usado como puntos de partida para sus pinturas y después ha arrojado, arrugados, esos recortes con indiferencia. La imagen banal o ilustre ha servido así para obrar una operación alquímica. Basta con una imagen vista en una película, el primer plano de la mujer gritando en 'El acorazado Potemkin', para que esos rasgos deformados por el dolor se multipliquen y recombinen de múltiples maneras en los cuadros de Bacon, abierto a múltiples influencias. Así, el retrato de Inocencio X por Velázquez le servirá para experimentar de forma obsesiva. El cuadro de Velázquez, que nunca querrá ver en persona por miedo a sentirse derrotado como pintor, será el punto de partida de incesantes exploraciones, contabilizándose más de 40 pinturas con este mismo tema.


Basándose en fotografías, Bacon sentirá que la pintura aporta el factor diferencial de la textura a la vez que un efecto más intenso y directo. Pero al igual que el Papa pintado por Velázquez, un autorretrato de Van Gogh caminando será también su inspiración obsesiva. Cualquier imagen tomada de la prensa o de un libro, por insignificante que parezca, será factible de ser dignificada y redimensionada por la pintura.


A la vez, Bacon gustaba de explicar su pintura a través de lo que llamaba «el accidente», momento crucial en la elaboración de sus obras: «En mi caso, todo cuadro -cada vez más, a medida que pasan los años- es un accidente. Así, lo preveo en mi mente, lo preveo y sin embargo casi nunca sale como lo he previsto. Se transforma con la pintura real. Utilizo pinceles muy grandes y, en la manera que trabajo, muchas veces no sé realmente qué hará la pintura, y hace muchas cosas que son mucho mejores de lo que yo podría hacer. ¿Es un accidente? Tal vez se podría decir que no es un accidente, porque se convierte en un proceso selectivo el hecho de que uno escoja conservar parte de este accidente. Se intenta, por supuesto, mantener la vitalidad del accidente y, sin embargo, conservar una continuidad».


Esta forma de pintar, en la que el proceso técnico se rige por la premeditación pero se ve alterado por los accidentes, lo que incluye el azar en la realización de la obra, es al fin y al cabo una metáfora de la vida, esa mezcla de planes y de eventualidades, lo que hace que la pintura de Bacon sea tan intensa, tan cierta, tan verdadera. Tan conmovedora.



Tal vez la mejor indicación para comprender la obra de Bacon sea la que él mismo, por otra parte tan abundante en declaraciones, dejó expresada: «Pienso que el arte es una obsesión con la vida y, después de todo, como somos seres humanos, nuestra principal obsesión es con nosotros mismos. A continuación, tal vez con los animales, y después con los paisajes».


'Estudio para el retrato de Inocencio X' se vendió en 2007 por 35 millones de euros, y por 31 millones su 'Segunda versión de estudio de toreo nº 1'. Un año después, la obra más cara expuesta en la feria de arte ARCO era también de Bacon: 'Hombre con palangana' costaba algo más de 23 millones de euros. El vendedor, la galería Marlborough, tradicionalmente la de nuestro pintor, algo tiene que ver con estos altos precios. Su cuidadoso control de la afluencia de obras de Bacon en el mercado, abriendo y cerrando el grifo según el momento, ha sido crucial para que el artista haya visto crecer su valor, su prestigio, su eco en los medios de comunicación que van recogiendo el nombre de Bacon y poniéndolo a un nivel de popularidad como sólo han alcanzado entre nosotros, y refiriéndonos tan sólo a artistas del siglo XX, Picasso, Dalí y Warhol.


En 1964, sorprenderá a un joven robando en su estudio. El resultado de este encuentro no será la comisaría sino el lecho. Y la inmortalidad de George Dyer, convertido en su amante y en su modelo hasta que se suicida en 1971. Una notable película de 1998, El amor es el demonio, refleja esta relación tormentosa y desgarrada, dando a Bacon maravillosamente los rasgos de Derek Jacobi y a George Dyer los de Daniel Craig. La muerte de Dyer, por ingestión de barbitúricos en la habitación de un hotel de París, se produjo dos días antes de la inauguración de la gran retrospectiva que el parisino Grand Palais dedicaba a Bacon. A Dyer lo sucedería como amante y modelo, y finalmente como heredero, John Edwards.


Huidizo y austero

En 1971, la revista Connaissance des Arts, que cada año publica la lista de los diez mejores pintores del mundo, sitúa a Bacon a la cabeza de esta clasificación. Es en este momento también uno de los más cotizados. También es un hombre tímido, huidizo, austero, regido por horarios de trabajo intensivos y agotadores de los que no se zafa y que concluye con noches de relax y charla en voz baja en los pubs de Londres.


Tras haber superado un cáncer en 1989, en abril de 1992 Bacon, contra el consejo de su médico, viajó a Madrid para inaugurar una exposición suya en la Galería Marlborough y para intentar reconducir la relación con su joven amante español. Al poco de llegar se sintió indispuesto y fue ingresado en la clínica Ruber. Habitación 417. En la que murió Tyrone Power, en la que murió seis años antes Enrique Tierno Galván, a la que sería llevado tras su atentado José María Aznar. El 28 de abril morirá de la confluencia de un ataque de asma agudo y un ataque de corazón. A su lado, Sor Mercedes, una monja de la orden de los Siervos de María. No hubo reconciliación con la fe de sus mayores y de la que había renegado. La niñera de sus días irlandeses solía castigarlo encerrándolo en un cajón. Había jurado que eso nunca volvería a suceder. Sus cenizas fueron llevadas a Inglaterra y esparcidas en una ceremonia privada. En su estudio, sobre el caballete, quedó su último cuadro por terminar. Los rasgos combinaban los de Bacon con los de George Dyer.






British art's biggest names reveal the work that set them on the road to fame


Michael Glover looks at the earliest efforts of some of the world's greatest artists


Michael Glover, The Independent, Friday, 23 October 2009


The beginning. The middle. The end. It is always fascinating and instructive to observe the trajectory of an artist, any artist. Beginnings can be particularly instructive. Is he or she to the manor born? Or is this foray into art a sudden flight into unknown and uncharted territory, at which the family now raises its collective eyebrows in a mingling of horror and consternation? 

Francis Bacon, like so many other painters, was self-taught. He worked as a furniture designer and interior decorator at first. It was, in part, Picasso's paintings of the early 1930s, those weird organic forms in which man seems part human and part animal, which caused Bacon to invent a language for himself as a painter. Picasso revealed to Bacon a particularly repulsive, bestial vision of humanity, and Bacon recognised it to be his own inner truth. He stuck to it, from first to last, never seriously deviating.

This question of truthfulness to some wholly compelling inner vision would have been quite alien to the great majority of the painters of the Renaissance and the pre-Renaissance. Painting was a skill to be acquired. Painters were artisans, not wilful visionaries. It was a question of emulation, of learning in the environment of the workshop, the gradual acquisition of essential skills. And then it would be a matter of pleasing the patron, which would, more often than not, have been the Church, and, if the patron were displeased, then doing something radically different.





  $40 Million Bacon Star in French Art Fair


    By Katya Kazakina, Bloomberg, October 20, 2009




                  Bacon's 1966 Portrait of George Dyer Talking 



While London’s weeklong contemporary-art fairs trumpeted a $9 million Francis Bacon, this week Paris will serve up two Bacons with prices around $20 million and $40 million - plus Picasso, Leger, Mondrian, Warhol and other 20th-century heavyweights.

The Paris-based Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain has added a new section, The Modern Project, which offers select dealers a sumptuous display booth and lower costs. The result is that for the first time FIAC has attracted major galleries and their high-end art.

The dealers are expected to offer a total of 25 museum- quality artworks with multimillion-dollar price tags during the fair, which runs Oct. 22-25 underneath the glass-domed Grand Palais and in the Louvre’s courtyard.

The priciest works will include Andy Warlol’s 1963 Green Disaster, created the same year as his Green Car Crash, which fetched $71.7 million at Christie’s New York in 2007; Bacon’s 1966 Portrait of George Dyer Talking, priced around $40 million; and a 1921 Fernand Leger Le Grand Dejeuner, priced between $20 million and $25 million (a larger version of the work is in the Museum of Modern Art in New York). Bacon’s Head III (1949) will be offered at about $20 million, and Pablo Picasso’s Maternity (1921) around $25 million.

“It will create fireworks,” said Paris-based dealer Daniel Malingue.







Take ‘an astonishing look at Francis Bacon’ in Dublin



Late Rooms, Monday 19th October, 2009 





Those staying in hotels in Dublin over the coming months can celebrate the life of Irish artist Francis Bacon by attending an exciting new exhibition of his work.

Entitled Francis Bacon: A Terrible Beauty, the collection goes on show at the Dublin City Gallery from October 28th to Match 7th 2010 and is expected to attract art lovers from across Europe.

The exhibition features dozens of items, including photographs, drawings, paintings and previously unseen items from his studio.

  According to the gallery, visitors will be offered "an astonishing new look" at the artist. Born on Lower Baggot Street in Dublin, Bacon is widely considered to be one of the most important figurative painters of the 20th century.

Some of his most famous works include Figure in a LandscapeStudy of a DogFigures in a Garden and Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, the last of which was painted in 1944 and is currently on display at the Tate in London.




Francis Bacon: A Terrible Beauty



Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane - 28 October to 7 March 2010



                                Francis Bacon by John Deakin


Francis Bacon: A Terrible Beauty
 celebrates the centenary of Francis Bacon's birth in 63, Lower Baggot Street, Dublin. This exhibition comprising paintings, drawings, photographs, unfinished works and slashed canvases will offer the viewer an astonishing new look at Francis Bacon, the great figurative painter of the 20th century. It will provide an opportunity to reappraise his oeuvre through the selected paintings, several of which haven’t been on public exhibition for many years. The mastery of Francis Bacon is revealed through these works and will be fully supported by an extensive and previously unseen selection of items from Bacon’s Studio.

Following on the donation of the Studio to the Hugh Lane by John Edwards in 1998, the 7,000 plus items retrieved from the studio were archived by The Hugh Lane. Francis Bacon’s Studio has been on permanent exhibition at Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane since 2001. It is acknowledged as one of the most pioneering and successful realisations of preserving and displaying an artist’s studio and contents. The database is unprecedented, documenting every item retrieved, thus providing fascinating insights into Bacon’s working processes.

The exhibition is co-curated by Barbara Dawson and Martin Harrison. It is accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue that presents important new research on the artist.

Francis Bacon: A Terrible Beauty is one of the major European cultural events of 2009. The exhibition will tour to Compton Verney, Warwickshire, England, in 2010.

Admission is free.

Sunday 25 October 2009, 1.30pm

Lecture & Film Screening: Francis Bacon and David Cronenberg. The Inner Beauty and other aspects.

Curated by Katharina Günther, Bacon Scholar


Film criticism suggests a connection between the paintings of the Irish artist Francis Bacon and the films of the Canadian director David Cronenberg, well known for movies like Scanners (1979), The Fly (1986) or Dead Ringers (1988). Those comments are mostly based on the fact that both oeuvres are often characterized as controversial, shocking or horrific, but very few research has been done on their actual similarities. In an interdisciplinary approach, this screening will explore both artist's imagery, regarding common motives and concepts.

After discussing selected paintings and film scenes, David Cronenberg's The Fly (95 mins) will be shown in full length.

Public Lecture - A Game of Chance
15 November 2009

Sunday 15th November 2009, 1.30pm

Public Lecture: A Game of Chance: The Media and Techniques of Francis Bacon

Lecturer: Head of Conservation, Joanna Shepard


Francis Bacon was a self-taught painter who created a range of astonishing effects with his materials. He created a personal mystique centring on claims that his paintings came about almost entirely by chance.  Head of Conservation, Joanna Shepard, presents important new research that contradicts these claims and reveals some remarkable discoveries about Bacon’s practice.

Part of a series of vibrant lectures that will illuminate this extraordinary exhibition and will give the opportunity to debate and explore issues raised by the exhibition and the accompanying catalogue.

Francis Bacon: A Terrible Beauty

28 October 2009

Published by Steidl on the occasion of the exhibition, Francis Bacon: A Terrible Beauty, Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, 28 October 2009 - 7 March 2010. Includes essays by the co-curators, Barbara Dawson and Martin Harrison, along with texts by Rebecca Daniels, Marcel Finke, Jessica O'Donnell, Joanna Shepard, and Logan Sisley.  




A contest between Bacon and Caravaggio


By Rachel Spence, The Financial Times, October 16 2009






                                        Francis Bacon’s Study of George Dyer (1969)




There has been a vogue recently for encounters between past and present masters. In Madrid, Paris and London, Picasso has been set in the context of influences such as Velázquez, Delacroix and Manet. Less successfully, Jan Fabre, the Belgian contemporary artist was let loose in the Richelieu wing of the Louvre: displayed alongside Rembrandt and Rubens, Fabre’s flimsy installations were grist to the mill of traditionalists who swear no contemporary artist can match up to the old masters.


The decision to confront Francis Bacon with Caravaggio is also fraught with risk. As the curators acknowledge, the 17th-century master exerted no direct influence on the Irish-born modernist. (Indeed, Bacon, who revered Velázquez, Rembrandt and Picasso, was influenced by Poussin, one of Caravaggio’s harshest critics.) What the pair do share is a revolutionary approach to the human figure, a fascination with anatomy, and a vision that is simultaneously sacred and profane. Both have been tagged as icons of gay, tormented genius whose decadent and violent lives – Bacon’s lover committed suicide; Caravaggio killed a man and wounded several others – fuelled the anguish in their canvases.


Yet it is the differences between them that make this show compelling. Caravaggio was a Catholic; Bacon an avowed atheist. Caravaggio was the flag-bearer of the Counter-Reformation, charged with seducing the faithful away from Lutheran temptation. In Bacon’s age, secularity was yesterday’s news and artists painted to please themselves. Bacon’s refusal to relinquish the human figure while artists all around him turned to abstraction looked quasi-reactionary. Surrounded by the distorted idealism of high mannerism, Caravaggio’s fidelity to the real – he transcribed every wrinkle, every hair, every frantic gesture – saw him pilloried as a radical.


At first, the encounter jars. Built around the ancient-to-baroque art collection amassed by the 17th-century Roman cardinal Scipione Borghese, the Galleria Borghese is one of the finest small museums in the world. But Bacon’s triptychs, August (1972) and Triptych inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus (1981), are eclipsed by the combination of two mighty Caravaggio canvases, The Conversion on the Road to Damascus (1601) and The Resurrection of Lazarus (1609), and the jaw-dropping lavishness of the entrance hall, with its frescoes, statues and mosaic floors.

The display is partly to blame. Mounting the triptychs with their colour-field backgrounds against temporary panels in a pink that tones not only with Bacon’s own colours but also the ceiling fresco is a perilous reminder of Bacon’s original trade as an interior decorator.


But the real problem is the temporal leap demanded of the eye. Plunging a 20th-century artist with a predilection for deconstructing the human figure into a room devoted to classical beauty is an optical challenge. Painted in oil devoid of the sensuous impasto and tenebrous chiaroscuro that make premodern art so seductive, Bacon’s figures look like cartoons: cheeky, graphic teases cocking a snook at the grand old patriarch whose transcendent beauty puts him beyond threat.


After a few minutes, however, these visual hurdles recede and one becomes aware that a gripping dialogue across centuries and belief systems is taking place. What is at stake here is faith. Although he had a complex relationship with religion, repeatedly painting crucifixions, Popes, and triptychs, the imagery of Augusttells us that Bacon’s world was a redemption-free zone.


One of a cycle of “black triptychs” painted after the suicide of his lover George Dyer in a Paris hotel room, the work depicts two semi-naked male figures, leaking out their life force into sinister flesh-pink puddles. Flanked by this pair, a nebulous spillage in mauve, grey and white is Bacon’s chilly vision of a sexual coupling. These abject scenes are framed by a trio of black portals whose matt, merciless, impenetrable surfaces suggest nothing lies on the other side.


Caravaggio’s painting of Lazarus makes a powerful case for the alternative. As a divine glow plays across the scene – the nude torso of the beggar, Christ’s omnipotent, out-stretched arm – the cavern’s tawny-lit, deliquescent darkness truly seems the territory of miracles.


Other than Piero della Francesca, no artist knew better than Caravaggio that light was the Catholic painter’s greatest ally. In the Conversion of St Paul, a breathtaking image of Paul prone beneath the raised hoof of a piebald horse, he floods a dynamic, diaphanous glow on to the horse’s silky hide, making the animal the hero of the painting and reminding us that we are all equal under the eyes of God.


The contest is more equal in the room devoted to portraits. Here, two early Caravaggio canvases, Young Man with a Basket of Fruit (1593-1595) and Self-portrait as Bacchus (1593-1595), show Caravaggio developing the style that would ensure his lasting fame. Although often presented as “the first modern painter” for his refusal to idealise nature, the Lombard-born artist was steeped in the lessons of classical antiquity. Thus he renders every bloom, vein and blemish on his fruit basket in Flemish-style detail yet the boy who holds it, with his purple-shadowed throat and parted, rosy lips, possesses the sculpted perfection of a Michelangelo.


Bacon’s contribution is anchored by Head VI (1949),  one of more than 50 paintings based on Velázquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X. Bacon was no draughtsman but Velázquez’s outline bestows a steely gravitas that is the perfect counterpoint to Bacon’s disfigurement. By dragging paint across an untreated canvas and adding that fathomless, shrieking mouth, Bacon creates an expression of such archetypal horror you sense all his demons – death, faith, masculinity, patriarchal authority – distilled into that single image.


Of course, these were Caravaggio’s demons too. In the the show’s finale, a clutch of marvellous works by the Italian – Madonna di Loreto (1604-1605), St Jerome (1605-1606), Madonna dei Palafrenieri (1605-1606) – include his David with the Head of Goliath (1610). One of Caravaggio’s final paintings, it’s said that the Philistine’s bloodless, open-mouthed visage is a self-portrait of the artist at the end of his life, when he was tortured by guilt and by the thought of his own mortality.


Bacon, who once described his crucifixion scenes as self-portraits, would have understood. A weakness of this show is that it barely contains any of the canvases – the Guggenheim’s Three Studies for a Crucifixion (1962), for example – where the Irishman explodes the human body into viscous, blood-hued rubbles of flesh. Only one, Study from Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1953), the Pope’s face dissolving into a garnet-red froth to match his robe, hints at the profound sense of revulsion – for death, self, the human condition – that animates his most powerful work.


Ultimately, the absence of a few masterpieces doesn’t matter. Although the curator Anna Coliva writes that the show is “not an exhibition of history”, that’s exactly what it is. But the lesson is made thrilling by the aesthetic power of the works.


Leaving Caravaggio and Bacon aside, the museum offers a whistle-stop tour from ancient art to Rubens, by way of Bellini, Raphael and Correggio. In this company, we see how Caravaggio’s determination to paint the poor, the old and the ugly heralded the slow disintegration of classical ideals of beauty. With modernity came the revelation that man was no longer “the measure of all things”. Bacon’s sorry, disfigured souls mark the final act of the tragedy. Perhaps he was lucky. If he had been born 50 years later he might, like Jan Fabre, be making art out of beetles.


Caravaggio Bacon, Galleria Borghese, Rome, until January 24 2010





Caravaggio e Bacon: un gioco di riflessi




Nessun rapporto diretto, ma la stessa potenza nell'indagare dolorosamente la condizione umana



Anna Mallamo, Gazzetta del Sud, 05/10/2009




E cosa mai avrebbero da dirsi, oggi, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) e Francis Bacon (1909-1992)? Potrebbero passeggiare assieme tra i dipinti e i marmi della splendente Galleria Borghese, senza guardarsi ma sotto lo sguardo degli infiniti capolavori antichi che popolano quelle sale, le fughe di statue, le cornici dorate. Guardando l'uno l'autoritratto dell'altro, cercandone la verità, una verità malata, colpevole, reaconfessa e febbrile nel caso di Caravaggio (è sua la testa mozzata di Golia che pende dalla mano di Davide nel dipinto del 1606: dopo la condanna alla decapitazione, che lo costrinse a fuggire da Roma, fu ossessionato da quel tema, che coincide col tema sempiterno della perdizione e della salvezza); una verità che sa di sfacelo e de-scomposizione, che evoca tavoli anatomici e illustrazioni cliniche, che non ha volto o meglio ha un volto disfatto, ricomposto e nuovamente disfatto nel caso di Bacon (in mostra ci sono i Tre studi per un autoritratto del 1980).


Guardando i dipinti l'uno dell'altro (14 per Caravaggio, 16 per Bacon), riuniti da un'idea singolare e provocatoria – dal momento che nessuna dipendenza, filiazione o diretta ispirazione collega i due artisti – quella della mostra Caravaggio - Bacon, curata da Anna Coliva, direttrice della Galleria Borghese, e Michael Peppiat, intimo amico e biografo di Bacon, apertasi venerdì (e in corso fino al 24 gennaio) nella romana Galleria Borghese, il cui spazio scenico moltiplica a dismisura la suggestione dell'accostamento, col suo tessuto di capolavori che fanno da trama ulteriore, da supporto e contesto all'incontro tra i due Grandi, così vicini, così dissimili.


Caravaggio si specchierebbe nei dipinti di Bacon: non solo perché l'arte è tutta uno specchio e quella di Bacon risulta specchio concavo e impietoso della condizione umana, ma anche perché una precisa volontà di Bacon è che i suoi dipinti siano protetti da vetro. «Mi piace – diceva Bacon – la distanza che il vetro instaura tra ciò che è stato fatto e l'osservatore... ed è esatto dire che per molti aspetti sono più difficili da vedere, ma si può sempre guardarci dentro». Ecco, quel "guardar dentro" che è operazione indispensabile per chi volesse visitare la mostra, incontrando Caravaggio e Bacon, assieme e al di là dei codici consueti della storia dell'arte, della critica, della filologia. In un incontro poetico, certamente perturbante, strettamente individuale, come e più d'un setting psicanalitico.


Venendo fatalmente coinvolti nel gioco di echi e rimandi e – sì – riflessi che questa mostra, più di altre, mette in gioco: «A determinare la protezione (del vetro) molto probabilmente – scrive Anna Coliva nel catalogo – era la curiosità per l'effetto che, quasi letterariamente, la vita nel senso più superficialmente concreto e nella sua casualità vi trascorresse sopra, per riflesso, che il riflesso si frapponesse tra lo spettatore e l'opera, che lo spettatore vedesse sé e l'esistenza intorno riflettersi sopra». Ecco che Caravaggio, il suo volto cupo, segnato dalla malaria e dall'inquietudine (benché la moderna storiografia abbia fatto giustizia del cliché dell'artista maledetto), si riflette sulla superficie lucida – come carta fotografica intonsa – dei ritratti di Bacon, delle sue figure attorte: «La figura è azione, carne in disfacimento... la figura è sempre la forma in cui avviene la lotta pittorica» scrive Luigi Ficacci, esperto di Bacon e tra gli autori del catalogo.


Le figure di Bacon e lo spazio di Caravaggio, i colori di Bacon e la luce-oscurità di Caravaggio, la qualità perturbante e persino, talora, spiacevole della loro pittura. «Creare qualcosa è una sorta di eco tra un creatore e l'altro» ha detto Bacon. La potenza di questa mostra è in quell'eco, che ciascuno di noi saprà ritrovare nel gioco di rimandi, tra gli sguardi delle opere che si guardano tra loro, e riflettono le nostre sempiterne domande.


In esposizione

Alla Galleria Borghese, in piazzale Scipione Borghese, la mostra resterà aperta fino al prossimo 24 gennaio tutti i giorni, escluso il lunedì, dalle 9 alle 19. La prenotazione è obbligatoria.


Sono esposte14 opere di Caravaggio e 16 di Bacon. In particolare, per il primo è presente, oltre alle sei che appartengono alla collezione della Galleria, anche la Resurrezione di Lazzaro, del 1609, in prestito dal Museo regionale di Messina.


Di Baconfigurano i Trittici (in particolare quello ispirato all'Orestiade di Eschilo, del 1981), gli studi per i ritratti di Lucian Freud e George Dyer.



Caravaggio incontra Francis Bacon alla Galleria Borghese di Roma 


Dal 1 ottobre al 24 gennaio 2010 quarto appuntamento del ciclo 10 grandi mostre. Alla Galleria Borghese l’inedito incontro fra Caravaggio e Bacon


Rome Today, sabato, 3 ottobre 2009



Dal 1° ottobre 2009 al 24 gennaio 2010 la Galleria Borghese celebra Caravaggio, in occasione del IV centenario dalla morte, affiancando ai suoi capolavori venti dipinti di uno dei grandi artisti della seconda metà del XX secolo, Francis Bacon, di cui ricorre, invece, il centenario dalla nascita. Due personalità estreme, entrate nell’immaginario collettivo come artisti “maledetti”, che hanno espresso nella pittura il tormento dell’esistenza con pari intensità e genialità inventiva.

La mostra alla Galleria Borghese offre un accostamento tra i dipinti di Caravaggio e quelli di Bacon, proponendo allo spettatore di aderire all’eccezionale esperienza estetica che ne consegue, piuttosto che seguire una consueta ricostruzione storico critica.


Non vuole quindi teorizzare dipendenze di Bacon da Caravaggio, ma provocare le suggestioni visive, evocare corrispondenze spontanee risultanti da accostamenti formali. Bacon non ha nulla di Caravaggio e non si è ispirato a lui, ma se c’è un artista del nostro tempo che può essere equiparato a Caravaggio è proprio Bacon.

Il vero protagonista della mostra è lo spettatore, messo all’interno della scenografia della Galleria Borghese. Il museo è uno spazio della contemplazione, necessariamente impone le proprie condizioni alle opere degli artisti che avevano previsto, nel caso di Caravaggio, condizioni originarie diverse, ad esempio quelle dell'altare o della raccolta privata. Le opere assumono nel contesto ambientale del Museo un’esistenza autonoma.

La Galleria Borghese mantiene vive le tracce di questo rapporto attraverso sei capolavori, il Fanciullo con canestro di frutta, Bacchino malato, Madonna dei Palafrenieri, Davide con la testa di Golia, San Gerolamo scrivente e San Giovanni Battista, tramite i quali è possibile illustrare l’intero arco della sua vita.


La collezione permanente della Galleria Borghese verrà arricchita da opere chiave della sua produzione come la Negazione di Pietro dal Metropolitan di New York, la Caduta di Saulo da Santa Maria del Popolo a Roma, il Martirio di Sant’Orsola l’ultimo Caravaggio da Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano di Napoli o il Ritratto di Antonio Martelli, Cavaliere di Malta da Palazzo Pitti.

A queste verranno affiancate le tele di Francis Bacon provenienti dai maggiori musei del mondo, eccezionalmente concesse alla Galleria Borghese dopo la monografica organizzata dalla Tate Modern assieme al Prado e al Metropolitan. Opere in cui l’artista inglese, con maggiore intensità, ha voluto indagare il mistero dell’anima attraverso la rappresentazione ideale del corpo, un corpo che ci appare sconvolto e deformato ma, soprattutto, sofferente.




Due Grandi che si completano: Caravaggio liquida il mito e ricrea ogni volta l'evento, Bacon infligge il colpo mortale all'illustrazione


Pittura della "presenza", con un inaudito potere d'urto



Alessandro Notarstefano, Gazzetta del Sud, 03/10/2009




Quel che vedi sulla tela sta accadendo. È la grande rivoluzione attuata da Caravaggio, la sua bruciante scoperta, è l'unico possibile approdo per Francis Bacon, il ritorno del reale – messo a nudo e per questo poco riconoscibile – dopo aver fatto a pezzi ogni apparenza.


Non serve "saper leggere", basterà guardare le Figure. Caravaggio liquida il mito e in ogni dipinto ricrea l'evento – ce lo offre con intense evidenze da primizia –, Bacon infligge il colpo mortale all'illustrazione (anche a quella sovvertitrice degli astrattisti): innanzi a noi, quando guardiamo i suoi quadri, non estranee figurazioni ma la nostra carne viva.


Una pittura, quella di Caravaggio e Bacon, della presenza, una pittura che ha perciò un inaudito potere d'urto. Questo dà senso all'accostamento, ardito, di opere distanti: la "loro affinità" può esser forse nell'affinità tra le nostre sensazioni, di qua delle tele: non spettatori – attenzione – ma testimoni.


Caravaggio, facendo un uso apparentemente manicheo della luce, ci impone spesso un'ulteriore cornice che restringe la scena: il tempo è incredibilmente contratto e ciò accresce l'effetto di realtà. Operazione assolutamente moderna.


Anche Bacon ha inaspettatamente cura delle scenografie: le Figure al centro del suo interesse sono recluse quasi sempre in camere anonime (di struttura "tradizionale": rigorosamente salva – tra lavabi, interruttori di corrente e utensili – la prospettiva). Esemplari campiture che fanno da seconda cornice: imprigionano quanto accade "dentro" (nessun "movimento temporale": le teste e i corpi penetrati da Bacon sono scossi da uno smottamento interno che "avviene in diretta").


L'intimo non può darsi – e ciò è insieme scacco e obbligato lancio di dadi – se non in un'esteriorità. Questo è "il reale": da Caravaggio e Bacon nessuna solenne rivelazione ma il vivo vibrare che è in ogni attualità. Il primo, tra il XVI e l'inizio del XVII secolo, archivia il rassicurante tempo della leggenda; il secondo, alla metà del Novecento, congela con la sua pittura la condizione umana: sorpresi tutti noi – deformati e sofferenti – tra le ardue, spesso ostili, faglie del quotidiano.


Il corpo – ha scritto Nietzsche – è una "grande ragione". Caravaggio pesa forme e volumi (tra ombre incalzanti e i calibrati indietreggiamenti della luce), preserva l'intensità dei volti, la profondità d'ogni espressione (vi si legge la carne e il suo venir meno, c'è la debolezza che è in ogni stupore e la forza che è in ogni attesa), dubita del passato (tutto è presente, e la salvezza, la fiducia in Dio, la fede sono non nel ristare celebrativo delle certezze religiose di ieri ma nelle titubanze d'ogni vacillante adesso). Bacon, instancabilmente, perimetra corpi e teste – imperfette appendici, queste ultime, d'un Tutto ormai ammalato, dilaniato, imploso (non volti ma teste: non può esservi sguardo là dove l'inconscio è all'osso: l'"espressione" è nell'adesso schiaffeggiato e vilipeso, nel "falso movimento" che è in ogni attuale angoscia).


Caravaggio è obbligato al pudore. Moralità e ansia di salvezza: ogni Figura dovrà conservare una postura in qualche modo attonita, complice di un Disegno ma insieme "sottomessa", hic et nunc conquistati ma non ancora redenti. Nelle opere di Bacon nessuna moralità né messaggio: invenzione, colore e acrobazia raccontano di corpi "scorticati", ovvero della vulnerabilità dei nostri tempi squassati e malcerti. Opere che l'artista voleva fossero mostrate sotto vetro perché ne fosse accresciuta la cifra "vischiosa" di (però arricchenti) rimandi.


Riflessi (il mare è forse meno mare quando è schiuma?) e accostamenti: parole ambigue che noi testimoni mastichiamo sentendone i sapori oltremoderni. Non soltanto controllate e incontrollate corrispondenze di qua della tela ma pure – "fatalità" vana – echi flessuosi che non saranno mai uditi. Come nelle "Baigneuses" di Cézanne, non c'è mai (né può esserci) alcuna vera storia: non può essere altrimenti per chi – in perenne deriva – è, tra illusori "intervalli", contenuto dentro la morte.




Caravaggio e Bacon, fratelli ribelli
un confronto alla Galleria Borghese


Due artisti lontani ma affini scavano nel mistero della vita. Entrambi «maledetti»: amavano il gioco d'azzardo e il nero sulle tele


Lauretta Colonnelli,,Corriere della Sera, dal 2 ottobre 2009




                        David con la testa di Golia di Caravaggio


L'idea di accostare quattordici opere di Caravaggio a sedici tele di Francis Bacon nasce dal proposito di of­frire allo spettatore «un’espe­rienza estetica più che didatti­ca », come racconta Anna Coli­va, che dirige la Galleria Bor­ghese dove insieme a Michael Peppiatt ha curato la mostra Caravaggio-Bacon, visibile fino al 24 gennaio.

 «L’esposizione - precisa Coli­va - non vuole studiare filolo­gicamente i due artisti per ipo­tizzare qualche discendenza di Bacon da Caravaggio. Ma vi sono corrispondenze che emergono da sole alla sensibi­lità dello spettatore e non so­no imposte dalla teoria del cu­ratore ».

La pittura di Francis Bacon, infatti, non fa mai riferimen­to a Caravaggio, se non per l’ipotesi che la figura del «Nar­ciso » alla Galleria Barberini, ancora attribuito da alcuni studiosi a Michelangelo Meri­si, abbia fornito la traccia mnemonica per il Triptyc- Studies of the Human Body, dipinto dall’artista ingle­se nel 1970. Tuttavia, se c’è un artista del nostro tempo che può essere equiparato a Caravaggio è proprio Bacon, come rileva Maurizio Calvesi, che appare tra gli autori del ca­talogo.

Entrambi artisti tor­mentati e «maledetti», passa­vano il tempo a giocare d’az­zardo — Caravaggio nelle osterie romane tra gli ultimi anni del Cinquecento e i pri­mi del Seicento, Bacon a Mon­tecarlo — e poi creavano in fretta e furia i loro quadri, spesso distruggendoli per ri­cominciare daccapo. Entram­bi usano molto il nero per cre­are il contrasto di luci ed om­bre, scelgono il ritratto come elemento centrale della loro opera e trasformano la figura umana in un concentrato di emozioni. «Entrambi gli artisti — no­ta Luigi Ficacci, soprintenden­te per il patrimonio artistico di Bologna e tra i massimi esperti di Bacon in Italia — hanno un approccio molto profondo e traumatico verso la verità dell’esistenza, privo di barriere e di ripari. Entram­bi con la loro pittura pongo­no interrogativi radicali sul mistero dell’esistenza.

È co­me se si incontrassero su affi­nità profonde che si basano proprio su abissali differenze, che sono poi differenze di epo­ca e di sistema culturale». Ma oltre al confronto tra i due artisti, c’è un altro moti­vo che invoglia a visitare la mostra. Lo suggerisce Micha­el Peppiatt, che fu biografo e amico intimo di Bacon: «In primo luogo, l’impatto di Ca­ravaggio e Bacon fra i grandi artisti della Galleria Borghe­se. In secondo luogo, l’emo­zione di vedere un nuovo arri­vato competere con l’ordine antico con le sue grida isteri­che e blasfeme, le sue forme contorte e i colori violenti. Lo scontro dell’ansia allo stato puro del ventesimo secolo con le certezze del passato».

I visitatori noteranno che tutte le tele di Bacon sono sot­to vetro. È stato Bacon a im­porre il vetro ai suoi dipinti, senza preoccuparsi che i rifles­si potessero disturbarne la vi­sione o contrastare la possibi­lità di entrare in contatto con la carnalità esistenziale espressa dalla stesura pittori­ca e dalla sua materia. L’effet­to è straniante e molti critici si sono chiesti il perché di questa scelta. Bacon diceva: «Mi piace la distanza che il ve­tro instaura fra ciò che è stato fatto e l’osservatore. Mi piace, per così dire, che l’oggetto sia posto quanto più lontano pos­sibile. È curioso, ma persino i Rembrandt mi piacciono sot­to vetro. È esatto dire che per molti aspetti sono più difficili da vedere, ma si può sempre guardarci dentro».

Lauretta Colonnelli
02 ottobre 2009




La fragilità dell'uomo nell'arte di Caravaggio e Bacon


di Emanuele Bigi, Il Sole 24 Ore, 2/10/ 2009



Un incontro inusuale tra due giganti dell'arte: Caravaggio e Francis Bacon. Ad accoglierli sono le sale della Galleria Borghese a Roma che conosce bene i capolavori di Michelangelo Merisi, ma non quelli dell'artista novecentesco, o meglio di qualsiasi artista moderno. Come afferma Michael Peppiatt, curatore della mostra Caravaggio-Bacon insieme ad Anna Coliva, "siamo di fronte a un momento storico, qui per la prima volta le opere di Bacon creano un ponte tra l'arte classica e quella moderna e nello stesso tempo provocano una scossa elettrica". L'intento dell'esposizione non è forzare confronti stilistici e formali tra i due artisti, ma invitare il visitatore a compiere un'esperienza estetica.

Tra i due infatti non c'è stata alcuna influenza diretta, "l'unico punto di contatto – sottolinea la Coliva – è sul piano del contenuto", entrambi lavorano sulla rappresentazione della fragilità dell'essere umano consci della labilità della vita. Il viaggio è alla scoperta della figura umana drammaticamente sconvolta dall'esistenza. Ecco allora che le opere di quattrocento anni fa si riflettono in quelle di stampo novecentesco, un riflesso accentuato dai vetri che coprono i lavori di Bacon (come li voleva lui), rendendo quelle figure liquide ancor più sfatte. E in quei riflessi non solo si incontra il microcosmo circostante, le sale della Galleria, i dipinti del Caravaggio e della collezione Borghese (Tiziano, Raffaello, Canova ecc.), ma anche il ritratto del visitatore che diventa parte integrante della mostra.

A dare il là delle trenta opere esposte provenienti soprattutto dall'Europa sono gli oli su tela della Conversione di San Paolo e della Resurrezione di Lazzaro che giganteggiano all'ingresso, ai lati si estendono invece i due trittici di Bacon, disturbanti, inquietanti: le figure umane rappresentate si dileguano, i volti sembrano quasi cancellati, lasciano spazio al caos provocato dal dolore. I suoi ritratti affiancati a quelli del Merisi condensano questo aspetto: evocare l'identità interiore. Ciò che più colpisce sono le opere dell'artista inglese che nel 2010 avrebbe compiuto cento anni, un'occasione rara per vederle a Roma. Di Caravaggio è esposta per lo più la collezione Borghese, dal Giovane con canestro di frutta al San Girolamo, dall'Autoritratto in veste di Bacco, al Davide con la testa di Golia.

I diciassette quadri di Bacon trafiggono come quella freccia scoccata nel Martirio di Sant'Orsola del Merisi, lasciano a bocca aperta come la Testa VI dello stesso Bacon che così definisce la sua arte: "Ciò che voglio fare è distorcere le cose molto al di là dell'apparenza, ma nella distorsione stessa riportarla a una registrazione dell'apparenza. Chi oggi è riuscito a registrare qualcosa che venga recepito come realtà senza aver compiuto un grave scempio dell'immagine?". Anche quando ritrae Papa Innocenzo X, rifacendosi a Diego Velázquez, lo priva delle carni e lo rende quasi fluttuante. Questa è la realtà di Bacon.


Galleria Borghese, Roma
Fino al 24 gennaio 2010
Orari: lun 13-19; mar-sab 9-21; dom 9-19
Ingresso: intero 13,50 € mostra + galleria




Bacon e Caravaggio a confrontoB



Valeria Arnaldi, il Giornale (Italy), venerdì 02 ottobre 2009



«Penso che l’arte sia un’ossessione per la vita e, dato che siamo esseri umani, la nostra più grande ossessione è quella per noi stessi». È racchiuso in questa frase di Francis Bacon il senso dell’incontro, mai confronto, oggetto della mostra Caravaggio-Bacon, ospitata alla Galleria Borghese fino al 24 gennaio, che, in occasione delle celebrazioni per i quattrocento anni dalla morte di Caravaggio ed i cento dalla nascita di Bacon, porta per la prima volta nelle sale della Galleria le opere di un contemporaneo, accostando i due artisti in un ideale e complesso dialogo. Dalla Negazione di Pietro di Caravaggio al Tryptych August 1972 di Bacon, attraverso trenta opere provenienti da musei di tutto il mondo, è l’uomo a essere rappresentato e indagato, con la sua sensuale carnalità di peccatore e la miseria della carne, organica prigione di ambizioni più alte costrette dal limite della pelle.


Se in Caravaggio, infatti, l’uomo è impegnato nella lotta per salvarsi da se stesso, nelle opere di Bacon questa battaglia è persa e la carne diventa peso e simbolo del dramma di un divenire che, in realtà, è non-divenire, dove la nascita è il momento più alto di un viaggio verso la distruzione. Tra la luce del primo e l’oscurità del secondo, tra il colpevole compiacimento delle forme che non sa rinunciare alla contemplazione della bellezza e la triste condanna della vanità che preclude ogni piacere, tra la fede come possibilità di salvezza e la disperazione di una costante dissolvenza, si snoda il percorso espositivo, che ha come linea guida l’emozione estetica.


L’osservatore, simbolo dell’essere umano, è chiamato a fare da trait d'union tra le opere in un gioco di rimandi e contrasti, che vede la vita specchiarsi nella morte e viceversa, a ribadire futilità - e rapidità - dell’esistenza. «Non è una mostra di storia dell’arte - dice Anna Coliva, direttrice della Galleria Borghese, che ha curato l’esposizione insieme a Michael Peppiatt, massimo esperto di Bacon e suo amico - perché i due artisti non possono essere paragonabili per motivi stilistici o formali. Sono vicini però nei contenuti, in quanto entrambi vedono nella figura umana il campo di battaglia di un dramma che non ha possibilità di andare a buon fine». Che sia implorando perdono o accettando il proprio destino nell’impossibilità di cambiarlo, l’uomo è costretto a prendere coscienza di sé, guardandosi alla distanza nello «specchio» dell’arte. Ad assolvere questa funzione riflettente e riflessiva è Bacon: l’artista, infatti, voleva che i suoi lavori fossero sempre esposti sotto pesanti vetri per favorire il distacco dell’osservatore dal soggetto e far sì che i suoi movimenti lasciassero un’«ombra» sulle opere.


Qui, posti l’uno di fronte all’altro, in riflessi più o meno accentuati, tra vetro e colore, grandi opere e ritratti, Caravaggio si specchia in Bacon, «schiacciando» l’osservatore nel cuore della storia, a ribadire ancora una volta il suo essere un infinitesimale, e non indispensabile, tassello dell’eternità. La carnalità si scompone e diventa carne che, a sua volta, si decompone fino a scomparire e l’emozione spirituale suscitata dal dramma caravaggesco diventa pulsazione materica nella dispersione baconiana, in cui neppure i lineamenti possono mantenere fissità. In occasione dell’esposizione, la Galleria Borghese cambia orari, prolungando la visita fino alle 21 da martedì a sabato e aprendo straordinariamente il lunedì.





No one wants to take home the Bacon at art show


Tara Loader Wilkinson, Wealth Bulletin, 14 October 2009


A painting by Francis Bacon valued at $9m on sale at the Pavillion of Art & Design in London this week, could be a bellwether for the art market in a post credit crisis world.

The Monday night opening of the fair was attended by thousands of wealthy collectors and clients of the Pavilion's sponsor, Swiss private bank EFG International. Cheaper and mid-market works were the biggest sellers. While the pricier works of art were less popular.


Gerard Faggionato, a director of the Faggionato Fine Arts gallery, which was selling the Bacon, and also works by super-artists Andy Warhol and Gilbert & George, said he had sold little.





Francis Bacon: dicta y contradicta


Por María Minera, Letras Libres, Octubre de 2009  


                             Francis Bacon photographed by John Deakin, 1952


A punto de cumplirse el centenario del nacimiento de Francis Bacon, que tuvo lugar en Dublín, en 1909, la Tate Britain decidió dedicarle, por tercera ocasión,1 una gran retrospectiva, que viajaría después al Museo del Prado (el museo predilecto del pintor, ubicado en la ciudad donde, por cierto, murió en 1992: Madrid) y al Museo Metropolitano de Nueva York. Como era de esperarse, la muestra abrió en Londres con bombo y platillo (por primera vez en la historia la bbc transmitió en vivo los pormenores de la inauguración); durante los cuatro meses de la exposición, la gente (entre la que se podía contar a todos los artistas del Reino Unido, que veneran a Bacon bastante unánimemente) abarrotó las salas, y los críticos se dieron vuelo al componer grandes alabanzas: “Nadie puede negar que después de la guerra, este país no ha dado un pintor más abiertamente talentoso que él” (The Daily Telegraph); “Francis Bacon es simplemente el más extraordinario, poderoso y convincente de los pintores. Y no necesitas estudiar las complejidades de la historia ni ahondar en elevadas filosofías para saber por qué” (The Times); “Después de Matisse y Picasso, no hay nadie en el siglo xx que pinte mejor que él. Y eso es pecar de modestia: Bacon invita a una comparación directa con los grandes maestros, de la cual, además, sale perfectamente airoso” (The Guardian).

La exposición pasó después por Madrid, sin demasiados aspavientos (fuera del pintoresco episodio en que Félix de Azúa, “irritado por la importancia que daban los medios de comunicación a la santidad del artista como ‘explicación’ de su obra”, se inventó una biografía del pintor como un hombre ordinario: “Felizmente casado, dos hijos, votante del Partido Conservador, empleado de seguros y turista en la Costa Brava”). Y, finalmente, en mayo de este año, la retrospectiva llegó a Nueva York.

Hay que decir que la crítica estadounidense nunca ha mostrado un particular entusiasmo por el trabajo de Francis Bacon; de hecho, a lo largo de los años ha dedicado varias páginas a objetar puntualmente ciertos vericuetos, ciertas derivas de su pintura. Nunca, sin embargo, le había cabido la duda acerca de si estaba, o no, frente a una obra seria e importante. Hasta el mismísimo Clement Greenberg, defensor a ultranza del arte abstracto, reconocía en la figuración de Bacon algo de “la manera grandiosa, la terribilità” propia de los mejores pintores ingleses, como Turner. Esa certidumbre se mantuvo así, más o menos intacta, hasta el centenario: cuando los críticos –como si de golpe hubieran entrado en razón después de un largo ofuscamiento– pasaron de la admiración moderada al más completo repudio. El crítico de The New Yorker, Peter Schjeldahl, por ejemplo, arrancó su nota de junio pasado con esta confesión: “Desde hace mucho tiempo Francis Bacon es, de los grandes pintores del siglo pasado, el que menos me gusta.” Y él se quedó corto; Jed Perl, de The New Republic, no se molestó en templar su desagrado en lo más mínimo:2 “Lo que Bacon produjo no son pinturas, al menos, no en sentido estricto. Son poco más que rectángulos de tela pintarrajeados con grafitis dizque oscuros: angst para tontos. Bacon convirtió su astuto afán de citar a los maestros, antiguos o modernos, en la más grande tomada de pelo del siglo xx.”

¿Cómo puede existir tan honda discrepancia a un lado y al otro del Atlántico? ¿Será que a los ingleses –cegados por el amor al terruño– se les escapa lo que a otros, a la distancia, les es por completo evidente; por ejemplo, que Bacon, como sugirió Michael Kimmelman en The New York Times: “en las últimas décadas no hacía a ratos otra cosa que parodiarse a sí mismo”? O, al contrario, ¿acaso estarán más habilitados para percibir las sutilezas de un arte que a simple vista puede parecer no tener ninguna (tan agitado se lo ve, tan sin pulir)? Y a los estadounidenses, ¿no será que les disgusta que la de Bacon sea una pintura que muy difícilmente se habría producido en su país? Veamos. ¿Qué es exactamente lo que ahora le reprochan?

Después de recordarnos que Bacon se opuso al expresionismo abstracto “americano”, “mofándose del ‘encaje viejo’ de Jackson Pollock y de ‘las lúgubres variaciones de color’ de Mark Rothko”, Schjeldahl anota: “me gusta creer que en la carrera de la mitad del siglo por lograr un arte occidental radicalmente nuevo y pertinente, mis compatriotas jugaron limpio, y Bacon hizo trampa. Ellos desarrollaron estilos integrales que les permitieron asimilar y trascender el impresionismo y el cubismo; estilos envolventes que no sólo se dirigían a la mirada”, como, suponemos, lo hace el estilo de Bacon. Por su parte, Perl reconoce que al salir de la exposición sintió como si en realidad hubiera asistido “a un matadero, con cada una de las pinturas colgadas como carne en canal”. De lo que somos ahí testigos, advierte, “es del grotesco espectáculo de un artista en el proceso de eviscerar a la pintura”, que, como ya antes nos había advertido, ha de servir, por ejemplo, “para construir un rostro al detalle, antes de desarrollar ciertas distorsiones expresivas, basadas en el estudio concienzudo, hora tras hora, día tras día, de una persona real”. Pero claro, nos dice, “para qué tomarse tantas molestias cuando puedes simplemente usar una fotografía y desfigurarla con unos cuantos brochazos para dar la pinta de un Picasso de tercera”.

¿No será que en el fondo les disgusta este pintor de origen irlandés por lo que tiene de inglés (que es bastante; después de todo, pasó la práctica totalidad de su vida en Londres)? En efecto, Bacon rechazó desde el inicio la vía de la abstracción –que era la que tomaron los compatriotas de Schjeldahl– por encontrarla frívola, incapaz de actuar directamente sobre “el sistema nervioso”, como le gustaba decir. (Curiosamente, en el otro país es a él a quien acusan de liviandad.) Él estaba convencido de que a una pintura abstracta “sólo le interesa la belleza de su diseño o de sus formas”, y él buscaba una pintura que, sobre todo, se interesara por la vida; no lo vital, se entiende, sino el mero accidente. Y, de hecho, Perl no andaba tan lejos: para Bacon no había hecho más brutal que “ir a la carnicería y comprobar, con asombrado alivio, que uno no está ahí, en el lugar del animal”, cuando muy bien podría estarlo: si en realidad no se es nada más que carne, viva, pero carne al fin. Por eso su pintura parece la demostración constante, y a veces excesivamente gráfica, de que “somos esqueletos en potencia”. Bacon siempre se empeñó en negar que su trabajo era un reflejo de su tiempo (la turbulenta mitad del siglo xx); temía como pocas cosas caer en la mera ilustración, en la caricatura. En su obra no cabían la guerra y sus horrores, las masacres, las dictaduras, el fracaso de la democracia. Bacon nunca habría pintado el Guernica. Y, sin embargo, es imposible imaginar su trabajo sin todo eso como telón de fondo. Él insistía en que lo suyo eran las fuerzas violentas y destructivas que amenazan al hombre moderno, pero desde dentro. La realidad, no obstante, es que a ningún americano se le ocurrió pintar como Bacon, antes de Bacon. Tampoco es fácil imaginar en el Londres de los años cuarenta el surgimiento de un artista como Mark Rothko.

Nadie lo puede explicar mejor que George Orwell: “Casi cualquier europeo entre 1890 y 1930 vivía en la creencia tácita de que la civilización duraría por siempre. [...] En esa atmósfera, el desapego intelectual, e incluso el diletantismo, eran posibles. [...] Sin embargo, desde 1930 ese sentimiento de seguridad no existe más. Hitler y la depresión se encargaron de destruirlo. [...] En circunstancias semejantes el desapego es inviable. No puedes tener un interés puramente estético en una enfermedad de la que tú mismo estás muriendo.” Una idea, esta última, que Bacon compartía, y por la cual no dudó en desechar el expresionismo abstracto: “una cosa enteramente estética, que no puede transmitir sentimientos en el sentido más amplio” (lo cual abre una discusión que no cabe sostener aquí). Bacon, en ese Londres, no podía ser más que el que fue: un pintor “teatral” (como lo llama Schjeldahl, y por eso entiende: falso; como si no lo fueran también los limones más realistas de Zurbarán, ¿o acaso esos sí se pueden tocar?), al que le gustaba, nos dice Perl, “tomar material autobiográfico y jugar con él, haciendo de los signos y los símbolos su propio revoltijo, produciendo enigmas y misterios” (como uno piensa que hacen en general los artistas). Pero quizá todo ello resulte, en un país acostumbrado al arte abstracto, demasiado confesional, demasiado narrativo. Quizá. Bacon, de cualquier modo, habría cumplido cien años el 28 de este mes. ~


1. La Tate ya acogió antes, en su edificio del Milbank, dos amplias exposiciones de Bacon, una en 1985 y la otra en 1962.

2. Como sí lo hizo Schjeldahl: “Mis notas de la visita a su nueva retrospectiva bullen de una indignación que procuraré modular. No tiene caso mantener el encono, cuando se trata de un artista cuya estatura canónica [...] no ha hecho sino aumentar desde el día de su muerte.”






   Frieze Week to Lure Billionaires With $9 Million Bacon Nude


      Preview by Scott Reyburn, Bloomberg, 8 October, 2009




A 1988 Francis Bacon painting titled Study from the Human Body after Muybridge. 

The work will be priced at $9 million at Faggionato Fine Art's booth at the Frieze Art Fair, London U.K. The fair previews on the evening of Oct. 13.


Oct. 8 (Bloomberg) - London’s contemporary-art traders are aiming to defy the recession in their biggest week of the year by offering works including a $9 million Francis Bacon painting.

The Frieze Art Fair previews on Oct. 14, with 165 galleries bidding to win business from billionaire collectors. That’s up from 151 last year. Frieze found new exhibitors as 28 galleries pulled out. Other satellite events have shrunk or closed.

Frieze is still Europe’s biggest fair exclusively devoted to original works by contemporary and living artists. Demand for these works contracted during the financial crisis that followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in September 2008. Volumes of auction sales shrank between 70 percent and 80 percent, and prices of some artists more than halved, said the London-based research company ArtTactic in an e-mail last month.

London-based dealer Gerard Faggionato will be offering Bacon’s 1988 painting of a male nude, Study from the Human Body after Muybridge, with a price of $9 million at the satellite Pavillion Art & Design fair. The painting is from the estate of the artist, which Faggionato represents.

“There’s been a change from galleries asking who they want to sell to, to collectors asking who they want to buy from,” Faggionato said in an interview. “People will wake up next week. Everybody’s waiting to see what will happen.”



Lucian Freud se 'reúne' con Francis Bacon en el Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao


S. L. Bilbao -  El País (España), 07/10/2009


Lucian Freud, uno de los artistas vivos más importantes del expresionismo figurativo británico y Francis Bacon, quien le influyó de forma definitiva como pintor y con quien mantuvo una gran amistad volverán a estar juntos -de alguna manera- en Bilbao. La obra de Lucian Freud (Berlín, 1922) Reflejo con dos niños (autorretrato) se expone desde ayer y hasta el 10 de enero próximo en el Bellas Artes junto al cuadro Figura recostada ante un espejo, de Bacon (Dublín, 1909-Madrid, 1992). La intención de la pinacoteca bilbaína al colocar un cuadro al lado del otro es generar un "diálogo" entre dos pintores de la misma corriente artística y que comparten un gran interés por la representación de la figura humana, señaló ayer Jaime Viar, director del Bellas Artes.

Además, las dos pinturas comparten el recurso de la visión especular, que refleja y, al mismo tiempo, deforma la realidad. "Freud se autorretrata utilizando para ello un espejo que coloca a sus pies, de lo que resulta un intenso contrapicado y que la lámpara que hay sobre su cabeza parezca una figura abstracta", según explicó la conservadora de la pinacoteca, Ana Sánchez Lasa. En el ángulo inferior izquierdo aparecen los hijos del artista, Rose y Ali. El lienzo, pintado en 1965 es uno de los más representativos de la carrera de Lucian Freud, nieto del creador del psicoanálisis, Sigmund Freud, cuya familia se trasladó a Londres poco antes de que estallara la segunda guerra mundial.

Las obras de Freud y Bacon que ahora coinciden en el Bellas Artes fueron realizadas con apenas seis años de diferencia y ambas, según Viar y Sánchez Lasa, evocan la soledad de la existencia contemporánea. El reflejo de Lucian Freud pertenece al Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza de Madrid y llega a Bilbao gracias al programa La obra invitada, financiado por la fundación del Banco Santander, que se viene desarrollando desde hace cinco años.




Freud y Francis Bacon, reunión de amigos



El Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao muestra la relación personal y artística entre ambos pintores británicos


IÑAKI ESTEBAN | BILBAO |  El Correo Digital (Vizcaya) 07.10.09.


Dos viejos amigos se vuelven a ver en el Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao. Sus nombres, Lucien Freud y Francis Bacon, ambos pintores británicos, de los más importantes del siglo XX, y con la misma inquietud por la deformación del cuerpo dentro de un concepto de arte como autobiografía.


El encuentro se produce gracias al cuadro de Freud Reflejo con dos niños (Autorretrato), que llega a la pinacoteca vasca procedente del Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza de Madrid como La obra invitada, un programa patrocinado por el Banco Santander. El otro lienzo, Figura tumbada en espejo, firmado por Bacon, pertenece al museo de Bilbao y acompaña al de Freud bajo la mirada de un tercero, una escultura de Jacques Lipchitz titulada El rapto de Europa, que comparte con los dos cuadros una misma distorsión de la figura humana. Las tres obras se expondrán en el mismo espacio hasta el 10 de enero de 2010.


Hay otro punto en común entre las dos pinturas: el espejo. El nieto de Sigmund Freud, fundador del psicoanálisis, lo pone a ras de suelo y consigue que todo su autorretrato de cuerpo entero tome otra perspectiva, muy amenazadora, mientras que Bacon lo coloca de lado para resaltar las curvas de sus modelos. Las dos obras se pintaron sólo con seis años de diferencia, la de Freud en 1965 y la de Bacon en 1971. No eran buenos tiempos para la figuración expresionista, pero ambos se mantuvieron en su empeño de recrear el dramatismo existencial del ser humano con los contornos retorcidos de su materia corporal.


Brochazos amplios


Durante la presentación de 'La obra invitada', la conservadora del museo Ana Sánchez-Lassa se fijó en los dos niños que aparecen en la parte inferior de la pintura de Freud, sus hijos Rose y Ali, que subrayan su contenido autobiográfico. La experta dirigió también su atención hacia el rostro, perfilado con «brochazos amplios y valientes, cargados de pasta, luminosos y en contraste con el fondo grisáceo», y relató la afición delos dos amigos a retratarse el uno al otro.


La inclusión de la escultura de Lipchitz está justificada, según el director del museo, Javier Viar, por su realización en la misma época -1960-70, en este caso- y por un parecida deformación del cuerpo. «Incluso el primer Oteiza estaría cerca de estas imágenes», resaltó Viar.




A rare glimpse into the artist's studio


From the knee-deep litter of Francis Bacon to the artful order of Lucian Freud, a new exhibition explores how artists' workspaces reveal more than their occupants expect



Maev Kennedy, The Guardian, Monday 28 September, 2009


    Laid out to impress: Peter Tillemans's sumptuously portrayed studio, painted in 1716. 


Between them the beautiful boy huddled over a small fire in his icy garret, and the beautiful naked girl stooping in front of window overlooking a tumble of Parisian rooftops, combine almost every popular cliché about what artists get up to behind the closed doors of their studios.

One is a little painting from 1845, by the otherwise almost entirely forgotten 19th-century artist Octave Tassaert, and the other Christopher Nevinson's 1926 A Studio in Montparnasse. They hang among centuries of artists' studios captured in paint, film and photographs, in a unique exhibition opening this week at Compton Verney, the country mansion gallery in Warwickshire. Both show us wonderfully plausible lies: the viewer assumes immediately that the poverty and romance of one studio, the glamour and hint of exotic pleasures in the other, must relate to the artists' own lives. Which just proves how dangerous it is to take what artists say about themselves as the truth.

The Nevinson, for instance, doesn't show his own studio but one borrowed from a friend – who was outraged by the painting and the suggestion that his handsome room was the kind of place you might find a naked woman hanging around the window seat.

Over a century ago the Strand magazine nailed the voyeuristic seduction of such images: "The sacred place ... a laboratory in which ideas are melted down and boiled up and turned out on canvas by magic." Art historian, curator and deviser of the exhibition Giles Waterfield feels the seductive power of many of the images, but warns that the exhibition throws up more questions than it answers.

"For centuries people have taken the studio as a faithful reflection of the soul of the artist, but my question is – and it is one which this exhibition finally cannot answer: is it really?" Artists, after all, are by definition creatures of artifice, and they are exhibitionists. Many of these interiors are as carefully constructed as stage sets.

Waterfield and his co-curator Antonia Harrison spoke to Lucian Freud, whose studio is represented not only by his own paintings but in dazzling photographs by his assistant David Dawson, and by Bruce Bernard. Freud insisted there was nothing interesting or revelatory about his studio; it was just the place where he worked – but everything in the photographs suggests otherwise: a meticulously constructed space with almost surreal features including walls layered in impasto where he wiped his brushes. The paint is an inch thick in places – it must surely be easier to wipe a brush on a rag than risk damaging the voluptuous sculptural effect.


                       Portrait of George Dyer Riding a Bicycle (1966) Francis Bacon



Another photograph by Perry Ogden shows the legendary litter of Francis Bacon's studio at 7 Reece Mews, precisely matching the image of a haunted genius, which has now been reconstructed like the shrine of a saint in a Dublin gallery. It is shown beside the site drawing by the team of archaeologists who were sent in to record the stratigraphy of each individual object, before the move began. But there are also two more images of Bacon studios, which suggest the great man may have been playing to the cameras as he shuffled through the drifts of paper and rags; one dates from the period when he was still designing furniture, and it is as obsessively neat as a showroom window. Another little sketch by Michael Clark, from 1982, only two years before Ogden's photograph, shows a cluttered interior – but with a perfectly clear working space in the centre.

Many of the earlier paintings in the show, such as Peter Tillemans's handsome interior of 1716, depict not tormented souls starving, but elegantly dressed gentlemen entertaining more gentlemen, connoisseurs and potential clients, in interiors groaning with oriental carpets, leatherbound volumes and classical statues; these are artists marketing themselves as clubbable equals rather than social outcasts. Women artists, on the other hand, have their own very small section of the show, and if they're not quite working on a corner of the kitchen table, very few have managed a room of their own – artist Gwen John has one but it's as bare as a nun's cell, and clearly no society clients will be calling.

A century later, and the fashion has changed. For a society in thrall to the romance of La Bohème and Trilby, it was more marketable to be suffering in a garret. Edward Burne-Jones, in letters to his patron the Earl of Carlisle, sketches himself as a shivering skeletal figure, and writes that his stacked canvases are so cold and damp they could be used for growing mushrooms.

It may be that the only truly honest images in the show – and that includes the immaculate working studio constructed in a corner of a beautiful Georgian room overlooking a lake, for the artist Sigrid Holmwood – are from Turner prize-winner Jeremy Deller and the self-destructive 18th-century painter George Morland. Deller ruefully admits that the "studio" – no jugs of brushes, no turpentine-steeped rags, just a room where he works hunched over a laptop – is really quite boring. Morland's little painting, meanwhile, shows him at work on an idyllic landscape in a truly grim room. There are no swags of velvet drapery or classical busts here: it is almost bare of furniture, with sketches scribbled on the fireplace wall, presumably because all the paper has already gone up the chimney. His assistant is cooking four sausages in a pan over the fire – and there are two men and two hopeful-looking large dogs, so there won't be much lunch for anyone. There's an empty gin bottle on the floor, and presumably, one suspects, a half-full one nearby. Morland has fatally discovered that pub landlords would trade him drink for a new inn sign. He would be dead within two years of the painting, at the age of 39.

As for the beautiful boy painter starving in his garret, the artist Tassaert was 45 when he painted it. But if he was never quite so picturesquely young and poor, his own fate was tragic enough for the libretto of any opera. The painting is owned by the Louvre, and the image is now a bestseller worldwide on prints, greeting cards and even fridge magnets, but in life Tassaert was bitterly disappointed that he never achieved the success or recognition he felt he deserved. He became an alcoholic, sold everything left in his studio to a dealer at a knockdown price and gave up painting, and died in 1874 by gassing himself.

The show ended up much larger than the curators originally expected: there are hundreds of images, spanning more than three centuries. Some of the painters, including A-list celebrities of their day such as William Powell The Derby Day Frith, were rich and famous. While the view of one of the studios of GF Watts, a giant of his Victorian heyday whose reputation went into freefall after his death, shows that he worked in a space as luxurious as the lounge of a grand hotel. Others, like poor Morland, were barely scraping a living. Still, surprising similarities show up across the years: from Tillemans in 1716 to the spaces of Damien Hirst and Tom Phillips that have been photographed in the last 10 years, there's usually a skull around somewhere, and often the artist is not working in splendid isolation but with a rabble of assistants, women, children, cats and dogs hanging about. Time after time, although the feeling of trespassing in a sacred space endures, we as visitors are clearly expected: there's usually an artful still life in the foreground, or drawings, maps, bits of costumes and props – laid out to impress.

It's the Morland I'd take home with me, for its shabby frankness, and as a spur to work harder myself. I'm pretty sure he'd have swapped it for an extra sausage all round for the men and the dogs.



From decorator to painter – Francis Bacon's interior designs go on show


Rare rugs and paintings which Francis Bacon completed when he was working as an interior designer are to go on display for the first time.


By Roya Nikkhah, Arts Correspondent, The Sunday Telegraph, 27 September 2009




             British painter Francis Bacon by Arnold Newman 1975



Hidden in private collections for decades, they escaped the artist's attempts to destroy his early artworks which he believed were inferior to his later masterpieces.

Experts claim the pieces give a vital insight into how his interior design work influenced his more famous works.

To mark the centenary of Bacon's birth on October 28, Francis Bacon: Early Work at Tate Britain will include three rugs and a painted screen dating from 1929 when the then 20-year-old Bacon was decorating homes in London.

On loan from a private collection, they will be shown alongside some of his earliest surviving paintings, including Composition 1933, which echoes patterns in his rug designs, and his 1944 breakthrough work, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion.

From 1928 to 1930, Bacon worked in London, Paris and Berlin, designing entire interior schemes together with individual pieces of furniture. He began to incorporate some of his interiors work into his first paintings, such as Watercolour (1929), his earliest surviving painting which appears to have evolved from his carpet designs.

Aged 19, his studio in South Kensington was featured in an interiors magazine in a piece entitled The 1930 Look in British Decoration.

His clients included the Australian painter Roy de Maistre, who later became his mentor, and Sydney Butler, the daughter of the art collector Samuel Courthauld, for whom he designed a dining table and set of stools for her London home.

Matthew Gale, the curator of Modern Art and Head of Displays at Tate Modern, said that the new display which opens on October 26 would come as a "tremendous surprise to a lot of people."

He said: "Seeing where an artist comes from is always an incredibly intriguing and revealing thing. Not many people know that Bacon started out in interior design because he didn't make a big thing about it in later life.

"He tended to enforce the sense that the Three Studies... was where his career as the great British painter all began, but his design work was also a crucial moment.

"These works show him linked to a European modernist tradition, with a debt to Picasso and building on cubism as he made the shift from decorator to painter."




Francis Bacon at the Met

Francis Bacon's virtual reality



Robert Zaller, Art, Broad Street Review, August 15, 2009




        Porrait of Michel Leiris (1976): Our kinship with animals



Francis Bacon, who died at the age of 82 in 1992, was the greatest British painter of the 20th Century, and by all odds the most notorious. His famous paintings of Baroque-era popes, distortedly rendering Diego Velazquez's portrait of Innocent X as a succession of screaming funhouse faces, scandalized respectable opinion, while his treatment of gay life made him one of the first artists to unapologetically depict the gritty subculture of homosexual London. 

On a political level, Bacon's postwar work seemed to decry violence, while on a personal one he appeared to embrace it. The result was an art that seemed both aesthetically disturbing and morally ambivalent. 

Bacon's iconography is now familiar to us, and his bad-boy postures, after Robert Mapplethorpe and Peter Greenaway, seem a bit old hat, not to say sentimental. We are really left, in the centenary exhibit of his work recently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with the art itself. There's a cool, classical ironist behind the Romantic figure painter, and the tension between the two—the eye of a clinician observing a particularly messy operation—is what engages us now.

Yet there's a deeper issue in Bacon's work, the issue that besets modern art in general: how to represent the world in an age of photographic reproduction. 


Fine art's dirty little secrets

Before photography, the artist looked directly at the world and depicted it through hand and eye. Afterwards, anyone with a camera could reproduce that same world with a click of the shutter. This easy appropriation included the world of art itself, as the digital camera flashes that have added a new level to the visual pollution of our galleries and museums attest. 

At the Met, guards were diligently shooing would-be picture takers away from the Bacons, but I think Bacon himself would have been highly amused. That painters had themselves often worked from photographs was one of fine art's dirty little secrets, but Francis Bacon may have been the first to work only from photographs, film stills and other forms of reproduction. 

Even when painting his friends and lovers, he would never pose them, but have photographer friends such as John Deakin give him snapshots to work from. To have museum souvenir-hunters turn his paintings back into photographs might well have seemed a fitting completion of his work to him, or at any rate a reduction back to first principles.


A gambit taken to extremes

What were those principles? I don't think Bacon was merely quirky in insisting on having a prefabricated image to work from (a Velazquez painting might serve too, but only itself in reproduction—Bacon claimed never to have seen the original). He was making a programmatic or, if you will, a philosophic statement— namely, that the modern world could be seen only in mediated form, never directly. 

This is a very classic modernist gambit, of course. But Bacon took it to the extreme. Photography had, as it were, usurped the natural world, and banished it to Kantian exile. The photograph was the primary datum of experience now, and art could only work off it, compete with it and, if successful, in some sense displace it. This displacement was the actual artistic gesture, the triumph of art itself.

This conviction, I think, was at the core of Bacon's rejection of the dominant aesthetic of his generation, Abstract Expressionism. In photography, the image of a thing replaced the thing itself, but the Abstract Expressionists, by ignoring both, had retreated into what Bacon regarded as a sterile manipulation of form and color. 


Like tennis without a net

The Expressionists might say that, in rejecting the image, they freed themselves from the tyranny of representation in order to project emotions onto canvas directly. But to Bacon (not to mention Picasso and Matisse, among others), that was playing tennis without a net. The real issue was whether art could exist in what Walter Benjamin had called the age of mechanical reproduction, and any art that failed to engage the question— to grapple with the image, particularly the human image—was simply irrelevant.

The matter was not nearly so simple, of course. Picasso himself had broken up the conventional visual field with Cubism, and it was this gesture that made Abstract Expressionism possible, even if Picasso himself had chosen not to follow it. From this point of view, modern art was not about the image— temporality— but about space, reconfigured and reconceived. Photography had little to say about this issue, being in that sense an actually retrograde method for interrogating the world.

Bacon, too, despite his mock obeisance to the photograph, recognized this. The primary question in depicting the human image was, for him, not its color, outline or expression, but its placement in space. 


Baboons and the pope

I think the gaping or grimacing features that recur so regularly in his work attest to this spatial instability; they're like the distortions caused by exposure to compressed air or a destructive wind. On a psychological level, one might say, Bacon's gaping mouths are meant to reveal our animal kinship to other primates; thus, in the room that exhibits most of the papal images, figure studies of a chimpanzee and a baboon are included, as well as studies of dogs. 

But all the figures, human and animal, seem unlocated. The popes sit on their thrones, and there is no image more apparently grounded than a throne; but Bacon encloses them in the cage patterns characteristic of his early postwar work, thus making them appear suspended in a menacing void— menacing to them and to us. 

Or sometimes his figures are seen through drizzling screens of paint, like curtains that leave us uncertain whether the figures stand in front of or behind them (or are rather bombarded by them, like cosmic particles). Rain is spatially disorienting, especially when it appears without signpost or background; and Bacon's existential rain—coming from no apparent source and proceeding to no apparent ground— is particularly riddling. 


The spoor of the human 

In his later work, these devices are replaced by large slabs of unbroken color, which, even when they suggest a pictorial referent (a bare room, for example), give us no real purchase. Bacon's figures are as isolated, as ungrounded, as they can be, and the twists and gaps in the figures themselves leave them, too, at the margins of substantiality. It is as if Bacon (who adapts many of the devices of Expressionist space) wants to take the image as close to dubiety and unintelligibility as he can, while still leaving an inexpugnable trace, the spoor of the human.

This is a new kind of reality, but one that we can recognize about us everywhere today, and which Bacon was prescient in anticipating, particularly in his sensitivity to photographic processes— the chemical trace that leaves, mysteriously, a simulacrum of the object world. We live, increasingly, in this virtual reality, whose reach has been enormously extended by the computer and the world of video games and simulations that it has generated. Without noticing it, we have largely disappeared into this virtual reality, organized for us by unseen hands, which is now replacing the messy, unframed, chaotic natural world that, in our animal fear of it and our distrust of the instincts that once permitted us to navigate it, we are in the process of abandoning.


Paint itself as a victim

There is no reason why we ourselves should not some day be absorbed into this looking-glass, and that is the mirror Francis Bacon's art holds up to us. Its ambiguity— and perhaps its violence, too— is born of the frisson we experience as we confront this brave new world, which fascinated Bacon himself as its prophet. 

One of the things we will lose in it, as he was well aware, is paint itself. A painter friend of mine, recently returned from Venice, remarked to me about how few paintings the Biennale contained, as opposed to videos and installations. What, look at a cloth canvas daubed with vegetable dyes and hung, immovably, on a wall? Titian is as far from us now as a cave dweller.


The one reality we can't escape

Bacon, though, insisted upon paint, as he did upon the material core of humanity, distant and difficult though it had become to our perception (the difficulty was precisely his subject). Two paintings from the Met show may illustrate this for us. In one, his lover, George Dyer, is shown, nude and from the back, sitting on a toilet. He is surrounded by white space except for the piping that conducts Dyer's waste away from him and toward us: a man, in effect, shitting in our faces. 

In another, Blood on a Pavement, a smear of blood is all that is left of the absent figure, and the background itself is rendered as three Rothko-like panels (another appropriation from the Expressionists, despite Bacon's expressed disdain for Rothko). 

The Dyer portrait is, among other things, the ultimate send-up of the papal thrones; here, Bacon suggests, is where we all sit. We don't see Dyer's waste, but the image makes us inescapably conscious of it: shit is the one natural reality we can't escape, however politely removed by modern plumbing, and however antiseptically white our bathroom walls and fixtures. 

Similarly, blood is also our trace: the one testimony to our existence when the murdered corpse has been removed from the scene of the crime. We live, and therefore shit; we die, and therefore bleed: however virtual our reality may become in between, these signatures reveal us.




“The best exhibition I have ever seen, anywhere, in my life” 

– Francis Bacon at the Met.   Robert Ayers in New York




Robert Ayers, A Sky filled with Shooting Stars, June 3, 2009 




I know it’s beyond a joke now, but having experienced Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective at the Met yesterday I now formally reinstate it as New York’s museum show of 2009. I admit I was thrilled by the Guggenheim’s “The Third Mind”, and because I enjoyed such a breadth of the work that it included, I hailed it as Exhibition of the Year in one of my first posts here on A Sky filled with Shooting Stars. But the Bacon show really is something else altogether, and at least partly because it’s not about breadth at all: everything here is the product of one artistic personality.


So I go back to what I originally wrote for ARTINFO back in December:


“It’s as simple as this: Francis Bacon (1909-1992) was one of the twentieth century’s most innovative, dramatic, and controversial painters; his personal life was at least as romantically chaotic as the best of his pictures; his work still manages to split opinion right down the middle; his long shadow still falls on much of contemporary art making; and this is a huge, all-encompassing museum study of his career, boasting new technical and interpretive insights. With more than 150 works in total, and the organizing and intellectual weight of the Met, the Tate, and the Prado behind it, this hundredth birthday tribute is New York’s show of the year.”


In fact now I’d say more than that, because despite that near-eulogistic enthusiasm I now find myself reflecting that I had actually always misunderstood and underestimated Francis Bacon’s art.


Growing up and getting most of my formal art education in England, Bacon’s painting was always there in the background. In the Tate (which was only one oh-so-familiar museum in those days) and in every published or exhibited survey of British art, he was always there. I am ashamed to admit that I got so that I couldn’t even see him any more. I took his work for granted. I certainly didn’t appreciate its intensity or comprehend its difficult, tragic, and utterly human subject matter.

Why this realization is so beguiling is because it makes me register how much of my misunderstanding of Bacon was symptomatic of misunderstanding much of modern art in general. The first picture of Bacon’s that you see full-frontal in the Met’s show is Painting from 1946. It’s a terrifying image, all hanging carcasses and screaming, but what struck me most about it in the context of this show is the odd little enclosure that appears here so early in Bacon’s work, and really stays there in one way or another throughout his career. In this picture it’s described by the circular rail in the lower quarter of the picture – it reminds me of the dock in a British court room or of a display in some fancy Fortnum & Mason sort of emporium – and by the set of drawn roller blinds at the top. In other paintings it’s delimited by the walls of rooms, by geometrical forms sketched out in fine white lines, or by yellow ochre suggestions of church furniture in the early fifties portraits after the Velasquez Pope Innocent X. There’s even a whole gallery at the Met that’s given the title “Caged”. At least part of the claustrophobic power of Francis Bacon’s art derives from this really rather simple device of conjuring an enclosed space immediately behind or just inside of the surface of his pictures. It’s like a chamber prepared for a ritual, or a ring in which wrestling or bare knuckle fighting might happen, or an arena.

That word “arena” made me think of this statement of Harold Rosenberg’s from The American Action Painters, which is quite understandably one of the most celebrated passages in the whole of modern art criticism, “At a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act – rather than a space in which to reproduce, redesign, analyze or ‘express’ an object, actual or imagined. What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event.” Now anyone who knows me will be aware that the last thing I’m going to indulge in here is some sort of jingoistic tub-thumping for British art’s superiority over American – it was my besottedness with American art that brought me to New York City in the first place – but just think about this: in Francis Bacon (to borrow Rosenberg’s language) we are confronted with an artist for whom the canvas was an arena in which to act, as well as a space in which to redesign, analyze and ‘express’ objects – and more particularly human beings – actual and imagined. What was to go on the canvas was both a picture and an event.”


The Three Studies for a Crucifixion of March 1962 is still, even nearly half a century after it was painted, a ghastly, genuinely upsetting piece, each panel recording some different moment of horror, but what gripped me here (though not only here) is the nature of transubstantiation in Bacon’s art. In the right hand panel, he drags dry-ish white-ish paint over the mud color of his bare canvas to evoke with the slightest of means that horrible floating enclosure of stripped bones; in what the Met’s label rather quaintly calls the “sordid scene” of the center panel he squirts white paint directly from the tube to suggest ejaculated semen. Alright, he makes paint look like something else, that’s what painters have done for centuries. But representation is only half of the story for Francis Bacon. In the forms of the two unsettling characters in the left hand panel – in what we might otherwise have to read as one figure’s ballooning hunchback and the other’s jellyfish arms and extravagantly brushed club foot – it as though he is melting representation back into the fluid of paint again. Something similar is happening in the “shadow” in the foreground of the right hand panel. In fact, once you become conscious of it, you find it happening everywhere, nowhere more beguilingly or beautifully than in the right hand panel of Triptych in Memory of George Dyer (1971) where the squirted-paint-as-squirted-semen trick is extended lasciviously by then being made to represent the slick highlight on Dyer’s greasy cheekbone.


There’s a grey dimly-lit room in the middle of this exhibition, which would in truth have made a small but perfectly fascinating exhibition in itself. It’s labelled an “Archival Gallery Overview”, and one wall is filled with a more than life-sized slice out of the famous photograph of Bacon’s studio at 7 Reece Mews.


In a weird way that picture transforms the room into an echo of the studio itself, and that is entirely appropriate, for it contains Bacon’s source materials: pages torn from books and magazines, photo booth pictures and specially commissioned photographs of Bacon and his friends and his lovers, and most harrowingly, pictures of George Dyer, the bruiser who was the love of Bacon’s life, sitting in his baggy underpants in the very same studio that the little gallery has become.


Everything is torn, or crumpled, or glued back together, or smeared with paint.  The response of Met visitors to this whole exhibition is fascinating. Tourists in their summer vacation clothes who happily romp their way through pretty much the whole of rest of the museum are stunned into abject silence by the sheer overbearing power of Bacon’s art. (“Let’s get out of here!” I heard one unsettled young woman whisper to her boyfriend.) But in this room they become particularly hushed and reverent, as though visiting a shrine. Look again at that studio photograph, with its every surface strewn with paints, brushes, books, and the very newspaper clippings and photographs that we have here in front of us, and the walls peppered with little gory circles and smears of paint. The place looks like the scene of an explosion, or a crime, or a passion.


There has in the past been a tendency to romanticize Francis Bacon’s life and art. I’ve been guilty of it myself. But seeing this show makes me realize that there is nothing romantic about him or his work at all (and in passing makes also reassures me that I was right about Love is the Devil – what an utterly absurd movie that is.) Why Bacon’s tragedy is real tragedy (or why that routinely devalued word is for once appropriate) is because it has absolutely no romance to it, and – other than the art that it spawned – not a single elevating aspect.

There’s a painting here called Self Portrait (from 1973) that I’d never really looked at before. In it Bacon leans on his elbow on the corner of a bare sink. His legs are twisted around one another in some paroxism of boredom, and he paws at his forehead above a screwed up jowly face that is once again doing that turning-back-into-paint thing. Bacon’s only companions are that sink, his bentwood chair, his own reflection, and a bare bulb that hangs above him. His watch reads 10 past 5. It is a truly harrowing picture. There are no hanging carcasses, no mysterious intruders, no fights or embraces, no bloodstains. Just Bacon enduring his own company at the end of an English afternoon, and finding it empty, boring, and loathsome. And in those days even the pubs didn’t open until 5.30.

This picture also tells us something about the peculiar role of resemblance in Bacon’s art. He famously hated to paint his subjects from life – he just couldn’t stand their proximity, apparently – and thus resorted so often to photographs. It’s interesting to ponder whether he hated other people’s appearance as much as his Three Studies for a Self Portrait (1979-80) – with its grotesque exaggerations of his nose and the bags around his eyes – makes it obvious that he despised his own. But what is undeniably the case is that the strange transubstantiation that occurs in Bacon – from paint to appearance and at least some of the way back again – is fundamental to his ability to evoke human presence. Look at that photograph of George Dyer again. Look at how like and unlike him Bacon’s various portraits look, and you begin to see that Bacon shows up portraiture that relies on resemblance as trite and lightweight and distracting. And only a stab in the dark at the sad mystery that is human existence.


Mystery runs through Bacon’s art like its spirit, for as well as portraits of real people that look little more like their subjects than they look like elaborate smearing of paint, there are all those portraits that look scarily like people they cannot possibly represent. There’s a whole room full of these so-called "Men in Blue” at the Met. Perhaps it tells us more about some unresolved oedipal problem of mine that I find these pictures of big framed middle aged men in business suits so frightening, but I still want to know how – decades before their emergence as adversaries on the world stage – Francis Bacon could come up with such convincing representations of (here) Ronald Reagan, and – in another painting with the same title – of Leonid Brezhnev.


Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective is not merely the real exhibition of the year, I genuinely think it may be the best exhibition I have ever seen, anywhere, in my life. “Best” in the sense that it has made me totally reconsider not only the status of its subject, but also my comprehension of his relation to his predecessors (the late Picassos down at Gagosian suddenly look terribly unsubstantial by comparison) and to his contemporaries (rethinking Rosenberg’s The American Action Painters is really going to force me to think again about de Kooning, and particularly about Pollock). It’s also left me with all kinds of problems around my understanding of words like “tragedy”, “representation”, and “portraiture” and, though I haven’t mentioned them here, like “existentialism” and “beauty” as well. That such questions are wrapped up in a show that utterly renews one’s faith in the power of art to communicate something major about the human condition means that whether or not this is the best exhibition that has ever been seen in the city, it’s going to be a hell of a wait before another one that’s as good comes along.



Metropolitan Museum of Art's Francis Bacon exhibit shows artist's grim outlook on life


By Lennie Bennett, Times Art Critic, St. Petersburg Times, Sunday, June 21, 2009



Francis Bacon took no prisoners. His reputation as one of the foremost painters of the 20th century is based on his grotesque view of humanity and nihilist disbelief in life's meaning or purpose.

His work sounds pretty grim.

And it is, on one level, as you wander through a retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with 66 works spanning his career. Bodies like carcasses, howling faces, sex as degradation, death.

Just try to look away.

He compels us to gaze long and hard, because from the carnage he wrests uncompromising art that is beautiful.

Bacon (1909-1992) was entirely self-taught, but classifying him as a Naive Artist would be laughable. The Irish-born Briton grew up amid privilege, had little formal education because he was severely asthmatic and was banished from home in 1926 because his father found him dressed in his mother's underwear. For many years he lived a fairly rootless life, gambling, drinking, seeking out rough-trade sex. And learning how to paint, which he wanted to do after seeing a Picasso exhibition in Paris in 1927. He dabbled in other things for more than a decade, including interior design. An older artist taught him how to use oil-based paints (his first works were drawings and watercolours), which really kick-started his career. He had several shows and sold paintings but later destroyed work from the 1930s and disavowed anything before 1944.

A few have survived, including Crucifixion, a 1933 harbinger of several thematic and technical hallmarks. The classic pose is assumed by a figure that seems more animal than man in a shroud that appears to hang from a ceiling in a dark room.

Bacon revisited the crucifixion theme a lot in the 1940s, and Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion was considered a breakthrough. Its Christian reference is misleading; the artist was more intrigued with the idea of ritual sacrifice and suffering than religious doctrine, as indicated by three bestial figures confronting us in an apocalyptic nightmare. Bacon painted another version in 1988 using the same creatures.

His early masterpiece, though, was Painting (1946), which consolidated the torturous imagery Bacon had introduced earlier. It was Bacon's response to war's carnage and meaninglessness: Though Bacon was medically unfit for active duty, he was a rescue volunteer in London during the blitz and saw firsthand plenty of mayhem. It, too, is a crucifixion — this time it's obviously a side of beef — in front of which sits a black-suited man holding an umbrella. His mouth gapes as a hideous black maw with perfect teeth (lots of those in later paintings also). The room has windows looking out to a void colour both of dawn and cured pork, partially covered by window shades of majestic purple, a colour he would also use in his famous portraits of Pope Innocent X after Velazquez. The pulls hanging from the shades, a small, seemingly irrelevant detail, take on greater meaning as you see their repetition throughout the show as ironic, pathetic touches of domesticity offering no protection from a cruel world.

So there you have Bacon's basic world view, which would remain unchanged: Human existence has no more meaning than any other animal. Life is a brutal journey, after which there is nothing. We're dead meat.

Yet Bacon gives grandeur to this vision: If we are animals in a continuing state of decay, we do not go easily or quietly. And we're intensely interesting as physical specimens, victims of or slaves to our physical needs and desires.

He drew inspiration from many sources. He fixated on Velazquez though he apparently never saw the original works. In fact, photographic and pictorial reproductions from books and magazines were his favourite sources, littering his studio and lining his kitchen walls. He never painted from life, even the portraits of his friends. He used photographs of them he scrunched or tore to produce the fractured effect he wanted. He admired the eccentric 19th century photographer Eadweard Muybridge's sequential photos, appropriating the idea in his paintings by using blurred paint to approximate motion.

Bacon was interested in the challenge of representational art in a photographic age. His paintings deconstruct the literal image, which was a common approach beginning in the early 20th century. But Bacon concentrates on representing the psychological encounter, "not respecting the representational truth of form, but using a breath of irrationality instead, to make representation stronger and more direct; so that form could pass directly from the eye to the stomach without going through the brain," as he once said.

In considering his depictions of male nudes we have to take into account the times. Bacon was openly and unapologetically gay when being so was not only illegal but still prosecuted in England, so sex always carried a whiff of danger. For him it never seemed the stuff of romantic encounters but rather, brutal couplings. Yet there is still tenderness: Two Figures in the Grass are locked in a rapturous embrace, finding fugitive solace in hiding.

His most profound relationship was with George Dyer, a good looking petty thief and alcoholic who was prone to depression and with whom Bacon had a tempestuous relationship from 1964 to 1971, when Dyer committed suicide in a Paris hotel room he was sharing with the artist two days before a major show of Bacon's work.

Bacon poured his guilt and grief into a series of posthumous portraits of Dyer, very different from those done when he was alive, that transform him into something of a heroic figure, as close to an emotional statement as Bacon would ever come. Triptych — In Memory of George Dyer was the first, painted the same year as Dyer's death, and the most charged. The background of the side panels is a sweet pink. On the left, a boxer falls, vanquished; on the right, Dyer's distinctive profile is captured on a slab as in a photograph, and his image is also reflected on a tabletop. The table's pedestal and base become a stream of blood puddling on the floor. In the center panel, Dyer stands in shadow at the foot of a shabby hotel staircase, the carpet the color of bacon, looking toward a room with a bare lightbulb as his muscular arm unlocks a door. A triptych two years later presents a more graphic portrayal of Dyer's final agonies by drug overdose: He sits on a toilet, vomits into a sink and collapses into dark shadow above the lightbulb. Death is still clinical and ugly, but now it's also personal.

During this mourning period, he also turned more to self-portraiture, seating himself in the same bentwood chair he had often used in painting Dyer. In one from 1973, he revisits that sink, now detached from the wall, the lightbulb a vague apparition above it, his legs coiled around themselves. He wears a watch and is deep in thought, as if willing himself to retain a fading memory as time ticks by.

In later work, Bacon abandoned the frenzied brushstrokes in favour of greater refinement. The violence is mitigated. The composition is simplified. Thick, blood-red pigment becomes discreet washes. He was criticized for losing his edge. Maybe he did, but it seems a conscious shift. He returned to themes and images he had explored throughout his career but wanted this new work to have a classic monumentality. The bodies look more modelled and sculpted with less suggestion of movement; violence is only represented as a splatter of blood on pavement in a landscape with overtones of Mark Rothko's minimalist colour field paintings.

I admire their finesse from the hand of a painter in complete control. But I don't love them as I do those from the late 1950s and into the early 1970s. In one of his last works, Triptych (1991), the two side panel figures are legs and partial torsos stepping into a black void. A head, painted to resemble a photograph, is pinned to the half-bodies; one of them is Bacon's. In the center panel, the body has collapsed into the dark frame. The symbolism is obvious: Bacon knows he approaches death. But no blood and guts are involved, just flesh becoming smooth and waxy. Bacon referenced T. S. Eliot frequently, a poet who wrote of postwar disillusionment. But I think of another British poet who was Bacon's contemporary, W. H. Auden, and lines such as these from his Lullaby:

"Mortal, guilty, but to me

The entirely beautiful."


       Francis Bacon's Triptych 1991 at a press preview on May 18th 2009




      Francis Bacon war ein genialer Geprügelter


          Welt, 20. Juni 2009




               Francis Bacon gilt als einer der größten Künstler des 20. Jahrhunderts 



Ich zeige meine Wunde: Der Schriftsteller und Büchner-Preisträger Wilhelm Genazino betrachtet Francis Bacons Studie zu einem Bildnis und entschlüsselt das Geheimnis seiner Schaffenskraft. Es zeigt, wie hoffnungslos der britische Künstler war und wie er diese Hoffnungslosigkeit für sein Werk nutzte.

Die Studie zu einem Bildnis von Francis Bacon ist 1953 entstanden und gehört in eine lange Reihe von Porträts, mit denen Bacon gewisse Verzerrungen seiner Menschenabbildung ausprobiert hat. Wobei das „Bildnis“ eine vergleichsweise milde Vorform jener Deformierungen zeigt, mit denen Bacon in späteren Jahren zuerst berüchtigt und dann immer mehr berühmt wurde. Wir sehen einen Mann in mittleren Jahren; er trägt einen dunklen Anzug, ein weißes Hemd und Krawatte. Er sitzt auf einem Bett oder einem Sofa, das rechte Bein ist hochgezogen, seine rechte Hand ist unsichtbar; seine linke Hand ist zwar zu sehen, aber nur undeutlich als Hand identifizierbar. Im Rücken des Mannes sehen wir ein Eisengestänge, von dem wir nicht wissen, ob es zu einem Bett oder zu einem Sitzmöbel gehört oder ob es Teil eines Gitters ist.

Ich nehme an, es handelt sich tatsächlich um ein Eisengitter; die Annahme hilft mir, einen Zipfel des Baconschen Denkens fassen zu können, seine Vorstellung nämlich, dass jeder von uns in seinem je eigenen Kosmos eingeschlossen ist. Noch weiter im Hintergrund des Mannes sehen wir die Begrenzung des Raums, die ebenfalls nicht eindeutig zu bestimmen ist; in der Bildmitte ähnelt sie einer Backsteinmauer, rechts und links davon erkennen wir nach unten beziehungsweise nach oben verlaufende dunkle Linien, die vielleicht Stoffbahnen sind, aber auch Bretter, Wellblech oder Kartonteile sein können. Diese Details sind für die Wirkung des Bildes insgesamt unverzichtbar, aber sie sind nicht wirklich zentral.

Das einzig zählende, sozusagen durchschlagende Detail habe ich bis jetzt nicht genannt, obgleich von ihm die unheimliche Irritation des Bildes ausgeht. Ich meine das Gebiss des Mannes. Der Mund ist geöffnet, wir sehen zwei Zahnreihen, die obere nur zur Hälfte. Wir argwöhnen, dass dieses Gebiss nicht zu einem Menschen gehören kann, sondern – sagen wir: – zu einem Tiger, zu einem Affen, vielleicht auch zu einem Ungeheuer, dessen Name uns nicht bekannt ist.


Das Raubtiergebiss

Das Gebiss ist der Dimension des menschlichen Gesichts nicht angemessen, es ist dafür zu groß und – vor allem – es ist zu aggressiv. Wir haben das Empfinden: Es ist ein Raubtiergebiss, und der Mann, der uns dieses Gebiss zeigt, ist von einer geradezu bestialischen Fröhlichkeit, die uns immer schon erschreckt hat, wenn wir sie an Menschen haben bemerken müssen. Für diese Zumutungen des Menschlichen hatte Bacon ein empfängliches Gespür. Man kann sagen: Seine Malerei bezieht ihren Reiz (und ihr Grauen) aus dem Zusammenstoß von Nähe und Ekel. Oder, genauer: Aus der unheimlichen Verwandlung von Nähe in Ekel, von Abstoßung durch Vertrautheit. Der Mann auf dem Bild ist ein schätzenswerter, wahrscheinlich liebenswerter Mensch, aber wenn er lacht oder vergnügt ist, gefriert sein Gesicht zu einer Maske des Schreckens. Ein Lieblingsausspruch von Bacon lautet: „Die Wirklichkeit hinterlässt ihr Gespenst.“

Genau darum geht es: Die Wirklichkeit hinterlässt ihr Gespenst – und Bacon hat das Gespenst gemalt, obgleich es unsichtbar ist wie alle Gespenster, weil Gespenster nur in unserer Empfindung existieren. Das Flüchtige des gespenstischen Eindrucks in unserem Bewusstsein erreicht Bacon mit seiner Wischtechnik, die er im Laufe der Jahre immer mehr vervollkommnet hat. Mit Hilfe der verwischenden Malerei erscheinen die Gesichter für Augenblicke verrutscht, aufgelöst, zerfließend, formlos, verletzt, von fremder Gewalt verstümmelt.

Weil Francis Bacon das fliehend Unbestimmte dennoch gegenständlich hat darstellen können, und zwar präzis, kann man ihn auch einen realistischen Maler nennen, wogegen er sich allerdings immer wieder gewehrt hat. Bacon hat Erscheinungsmomente dessen fixiert, was seinen Ursprung in der psychischen Realität des Menschen hat. Man kann auch sagen: Bacon hat Abbildungen von bilderlosen Einbildungen gemalt.


Opfer der Verwandlung

Gewiss ist nicht Bacons Technik und nicht seine Intention „realistisch“, sondern nur sein Drang, den im menschlichen Bewusstsein real existierenden Bildern eine Gestalt zu geben. Er bildet psychische Abläufe ab, für die wir keine Worte haben und auch keine haben können, weil die Menschen selbst die Opfer dieser Verwandlungen sind und weil sie selbst ihre Opferung – in der Regel – nicht ausdrücken können. Das menschliche Gesicht ist der unerbittliche Statthalter einer peinigenden Selbstnähe. Unser Gesicht ist von Anfang an endgültig; es exponiert uns gegen unseren Willen. Das Gesicht ist die schmerzhaft endgültige Antwort auf unseren nie erfüllten Wunsch, ein anderer zu werden.

Das Begehren nach einer Auswechslung unseres Ichs wird immer wieder von unserem Gesicht ausgebremst, verhöhnt, zunichte gemacht. Der Widerspruch des Subjekts haust in den Details des Körpers, er entweicht in die Einzelheiten des Gesichts, vulgo: in die Gestalt der Nase, des Munds, der Ohren, des Gebisses. Die Organe überleben den Wunsch nach ihrer Auswechslung nicht ohne psychische Beschädigung dessen, der sie wünscht. Diese Beschädigungen zeigt Bacon. Momentweise glauben wir, seine Bilder betrachtend, wir könnten eine verborgene Dynamik endlich anschauen – und dann auch unsere Melancholie darüber besser begreifen, dass wir uns nicht selbst schaffen können.

Die häufige Wiederkehr des verunstalteten Gesichts als Motiv wirft die Frage auf, ob es zwischen dem deformierten Gesicht und Bacons Leben eine Verbindung gibt. Bacon war ein Künstler, der seine Katastrophen kannte und deren laufende Wiederkehr als künstlerischen Impuls auszunützen wusste. Er gehört zu den nicht wenigen Exzess-Künstlern der Moderne, die ihre eigene Zerstörtheit als Inspiration ernst genommen haben.

Sein persönliches Drama begann, als Bacons Vater, ein autoritärer Pferdezüchter, der seinen Sohn von Stallburschen auspeitschen ließ, seinen schon frühzeitig homosexuellen Sohn in der Unterwäsche seiner Mutter erwischte. Der Vater reagierte drastisch: Er verwies den Sohn des Hauses. Der erst sechzehnjährige Francis reagierte auf diesen barbarischen Akt mit erstaunlicher Souveränität. Er nahm den Hinauswurf, deutlicher formuliert: die Verstoßung durch den Vater, als belebenden Schicksalsschlag an und leitete aus dem Bruch mit der Familie die Künstlerphilosophie eines selbstbestimmten Lebens ab.

Es begann eine hoffnungslos scheinende Odyssee als Vagant, Handlanger, Trinker. Er ließ sich von wohlhabenden Freiern aushalten – oft auch missbrauchen. Während vieler Jahre stand nicht die Kunst, sondern die Sexualität im Zentrum seines Lebens. Genauer: nicht so sehr die Sexualität, sondern die körperliche Verausgabung als Grenzmoment.


Ein Freizeitmaler

In gewisser Weise ist es bei dieser Reihenfolge immer geblieben, freilich bei allmählich ansteigender Relevanz des künstlerischen Ertrags. Am erstaunlichsten ist vielleicht, dass Bacons Künstlerexistenz über lange Zeit dem Leben eines Dilettanten und Freizeitmalers nicht unähnlich war und dass er dennoch – ohne je ein Kunststudium absolviert oder abgebrochen zu haben – mehr und mehr zu einer eigenen Ausdruckswelt fand. In seinen reiferen Jahren ist Bacon zu einem extremen Masochisten geworden. Seine Liebespartner schlugen ihn zusammen, zerrissen seine Kleider und schlitzten seine Bilder auf.

Nach Auspeitschungen durch homosexuelle Partner musste er häufig ärztliche Hilfe in Anspruch nehmen. Es liegt auf der Hand, dass sich zwischen dem Verlangen nach Schmerz und dem Verlangen nach Schmerzausdruck eine Korrelation herausbildete. Denn in diesem Schmerz steckt auch die Herausforderung, das Leben selbst – seiner inneren Unverständlichkeit wegen –, bannen und bestrafen zu wollen. Ich sage das mit aller gebotenen Vorsicht; die Verbindungslinien zwischen psychischem Leid und künstlerischer Produktivität sind – bei allen Künstlern –, im Kern unaufklärbar.

Von sadistischen Ausschreitungen seiner Liebhaber verletzt, von Alkohol paralysiert, von Erstickungsanfällen heimgesucht (Bacon war Asthmatiker): So wankte dieser doch zart gebaute Mann lange nach Mitternacht in sein Atelier – und begann sofort zu arbeiten, und zwar stundenlang und äußerst ergiebig. Am nächsten und übernächsten Tag dasselbe von vorn. Dass Bacon bei diesem Lebenswandel tatsächlich 83 Jahre als wurde, hat nicht nur ihn verwundert.

Dabei müssen wir zwei Fakten festhalten. Bacon wollte weder „schreckliche“ Bilder malen noch wollte er illustrative, abbildende Malerei hervorbringen. „Ich möchte überhaupt keine Ungeheuer schaffen“, sagte er, „obwohl jedermann anscheinend glaubt, dass die Bilder zum Schluss dann doch so aussehen.“ Ganz im Gegenteil war seine Intention darauf gerichtet, das Porträt des Menschen mit bisher unbekannten Mitteln neu zu erfinden.

Man kann sagen: Er suchte das vertraut Erscheinende eines Gesichts im Nicht-Bekannten seines Ausdrucks. Wir fügen hinzu: Er malte die Assoziation des Betrachters gleich mit. Das raubtierhafte Gebiss eines Mannes ist ein Teil der Bilderwelt des Betrachters, die allerdings vom Subjekt des Bildes freigesetzt wird. Diese Aporien des Sehens sind von Bacon stets zurückgewiesen oder geleugnet worden. Er war überzeugt davon, dass er es immer nur mit technisch-ästhetischen Problemen des Malens selbst zu tun hatte.


Maler der Verzweiflung

„Der verzweifelte Eindruck, den die Bilder machen“, so bekannte er einmal, „(?) ist zurückzuführen auf die technische Schwierigkeit, im gegenwärtigen Entwicklungsstadium der Malerei äußere Erscheinungen festzuhalten. Wenn meine Menschen aussehen, als befänden sie sich in einer fürchterlichen Krise, dann nur deshalb, weil ich sie nicht aus dem technischen Dilemma herausbringen konnte. Meiner Ansicht nach gibt es heute kein Zwischending zwischen einem dokumentarischen Gemälde und einem erstklassigen Werk, in dem das dokumentarische Element transzendiert erscheint.“

Wer will, kann in diesen Sätzen die Umrisse eines Konflikts erkennen. Einerseits wollte Bacon die körperliche Wucht und Unmittelbarkeit eines menschlichen Gesichts neu zeigen, andererseits durfte diese Aufgabe nicht auf bloß nachschaffende Weise (die Bacon „dokumentarisch“ nennt) erreicht werden. Wie viele andere Maler tat Bacon so, als hätte er stets nur mit formalen, ästhetischen oder handwerklichen Problemen zu tun; als hätte er nicht gewusst, dass es für seine Themen – das hässliche Gesicht, der monströse Körper, die Versehrtheit des Menschen – die Referenz des Leibes gibt und dass die Kunst von dieser Ableitung der Referenz niemals loskommt.


Zeige deine Wunde

Man kann auch sagen: Bacon spielte mit seinen (nicht nur körperlichen) Verletzungen, und indem er dieses Spiel vor unseren Augen spielte, konfrontierte er die Betrachter mit ihren je eigenen Verletzungen. Auf diese Weise entsteht der (durchaus konventionelle) Zusammenhang des Einzelnen mit dem Allgemeinen, des privaten Schmerzes mit dem massenhaft verbreiteten Leid.

Es gibt eine unspektakuläre Installation von Joseph Beuys mit dem Titel: Zeige deine Wunde. Dieser Titel könnte als Überschrift über Bacons Gesamtwerk stehen. Der Titel erinnert daran, dass alle Kunst – trotz ihres Versagens als Medium der Wiedererkennung – gleichzeitig transzendent realistisch ist, weil sie, als Menschenwerk, gar nicht anders kann. Das soll heißen: Kunstwerke machen uns bewusst, dass hinter unserem mimetischen Von-etwas-Sprechens immer nur ein ungenaues Wissen steckt.

Das Schwerverständliche des Menschen ist das Schwerverständliche der Kunst. Zwei Provinzen des Mangels, die Menschen und ihre Kunst, verschmelzen ineinander zu einer Reflektionsmaschine: Wellenartig sondert sich die Ungelöstheit des Menschen von diesen ab und taucht in der Kunst als gemaltes Zeichen wieder auf. Jedes brauchbare Bild schlägt uns momentweise alles Vorverstandene aus der Hand, es leert in Sekundenschnelle unseren Kopf, es macht uns – wieder – ahnungslos. Kein Bild von Bacon muss sofort verstanden werden, es muss nicht einmal überhaupt verstanden werden. Die akzeptierte Ahnungslosigkeit hat Bacon sowohl zu einem visionären Einfaltspinsel als auch zu einem Berserker der Progression gemacht. Bacon fand sein Leben – das sind seine eigenen Worte –, „lächerlich und grässlich“.


Ich bin schlicht

Zu seinem Biografen Michael Peppiatt sagte er: „Ich bin möglicherweise die schlichteste Person, die Sie kennen.“ Diese „schlichte Person“ war mit dem täglichen Risiko des Scheiterns auf quälende Weise vertraut. Zu David Sylvester sagte er einmal: „Sie wissen einfach nicht, wie die Hoffnungslosigkeit beim Arbeiten einen dazu bringt, einfach Farbe zu nehmen, einfach fast alles zu tun, um aus dieser Formel, eine Art von illustrativem Bild zu machen, herauszukommen; ich meine, ich wische einfach mit einem Lappen über das ganze Bild oder nehme einen Pinsel oder reibe es mit etwas ab oder schleudere Terpentin und Farbe und alles andere gegen das Ding in dem Versuch, die willentliche Artikulation des Bildes zu unterbinden.“

Schon an dieser Beschreibung lässt sich erkennen, dass Bacon nicht dazu neigt, seine Arbeit zu überhöhen oder auch nur zu stilisieren. Er hatte keine Botschaft und wollte nicht als „bedeutend“ gelten. Zu John Bussell sagte er: „Ich bin kein Prediger. Ich habe nichts zu sagen zur ‚Situation des Menschen’“. Auch nicht in der nachträglichen Fixierung fertiger Bilder neigte er zu Beweihräucherung. Niederschmetternd bescheiden ist ein Statement aus dem Jahr 1955, das er für den Katalog einer Ausstellung in New York schrieb: „Meine Bilder sollen aussehen, als sei ein menschliches Wesen durch sie hindurchgezogen und hätte eine Spur von menschlicher Anwesenheit und die Erinnerung an vergangene Ereignisse zurückgelassen, so wie eine Schnecke ihren Schleim bitter hinter sich lässt?“

Auch in diesem Text spüren wir Bacons Lust an der rhetorischen Verzerrung. Das New Yorker Statement ist entwaffnend ehrlich, gleichzeitig pompös nichtssagend. Man muss hinnehmen, dass Bacon selbst erklärungslos war. Insofern sind sein Leben und sein Werk ein Zwillingsrätsel, zwei unabhängig voneinander existierende Fragen, die sich mehr und mehr in Mysterien verwandelt haben.

Es bleibt die Verwunderung darüber, warum ein Künstler, der sich durch und durch nichtig fühlte, ein derartig gequältes Nichts sein musste. Allerdings ging aus dieser Qual das Staunen über die Schöpfung hervor. Der fantastische Ertrag von Bacons Anstrengung ist, dass durch die Qual hindurch die Lust des Menschen durchscheint, ein Teil der göttlichen Verschwendung zu werden.?

Wilhelm Genazino, 1943 in Mannheim geboren, ist Schriftsteller. 2004 erhielt er den Georg-Büchner-Preis. Im Frühjahr 2009 erschien bei Hanser sein jüngsterRoman Glück in glücksfernen Zeiten (160 S., 17,90 €). Diesen Essay schrieb er ?im Rahmen der Reihe Bildbeschreibungen, ?die von der Hamburger Kunsthalle und dem ?Literaturhaus Hamburg veranstaltet wird.




Writer Peppiatt revisits Francis Bacon


By Kenneth Baker, San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday, June 21, 2009



                      Michael Peppiatt, author of Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma 


British writer Michael Peppiatt first published his widely appreciated biography of painter Francis Bacon in 1997. Since then, he has kept abreast of everything he could find, published and unpublished, concerning his notorious subject, who died at 82 in 1992.

Beginning in the 1930s, the largely self-taught Bacon made a reputation - underground at first, then increasingly public - as a gay sexual adventurer, in times and cities that then still treated homosexuality as a crime. What he saw on the down-low, and many other sources, informed the grotesque vision of his art.

Apprised well in advance of the internationally touring Bacon retrospective currently at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, Peppiatt produced an even more absorbing revised version of his book, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma (Skyehorse; 456 pages; $16.95).

He discussed it with me by phone from his home in London.

Q: Was it an advantage or a disadvantage to have known Bacon while you were writing about him?

A: For me, it was essential. I'm not a biographer as such. ... It came out of my fascination with the man and it was done partly to explain that fascination to myself. ... I've met lots and lots of interesting people but never anyone as compelling as Bacon. ... It was a terrific stroke of luck to meet somebody like that when I was 19. I come from a kind of conventional background and I'd never met someone so free and daring and outrageous and inventive. I was at Cambridge studying art history at the time... He sort of excited me about life in way I had never been before. He did all kinds of things I had never done and had no interest in doing but he impressed me by the way he lived and the way he painted.

Q: How did the book originate?

A: I'd met a literary agent, and when Bacon died, she was on the phone with me immediately. ... He'd told me all these things over the years and I'd noted them down. I did do a sort of ghastly literary portrait early on - never published, thank God - and I showed him bits of that and he thought then that it was too indiscreet. But I had that whole manuscript to draw on.

Q: Should readers expect to recognize the new material for what it is?

A: Well, there's a new introduction and a postscript which takes the story up to now in the Bacon world. But all the way through I've threaded in things that I've thought of since, or that have come to the surface, some very minor, some very important. I've sort of unstitched and restitched the whole thing.

I went through and introduced many things, such as his relationship with and debt to Picasso's work, because I've gotten more interested in Picasso recently.

Also, a lot of people who were in Bacon's world are now dead, and I couldn't speak freely about them before - Valerie Beston, for example, who looked after his business affairs and really managed his whole personal life for years, and (critic) David Sylvester.

There were people who were a bit tongue-tied before Bacon's death who became looser after. I talked to his doctor quite a bit, something I didn't feel I could do while he was alive. ... Dr. Brass said some very interesting things about Bacon.

Also, I'm no longer in awe of Bacon, and he's no longer here to keep me in awe.

Q: Did Bacon and Picasso ever meet?

A: No, though they sort of knew each other through their common friendship with Michel Leiris.

Bacon met Giacometti, though, and they struck up quite a lively friendship.

Q: Some years ago, Bacon's London studio was dismantled and reconstructed in Dublin. Did you learn anything through that process?

A: That made no sense to me, just because he happened to be born there. His home is in London or Paris, not Dublin. ... But I consulted on it a bit and was able to see some of the excavated material - notes to himself, descriptions of dreams, photographs.

Q: Was the Bacon enigma in any sense a failure of self-knowledge on his part?

A: I did a show a couple of years ago called Bacon in the 1950s - before he knew he was Bacon, you might say. They're the roughest, clumsiest pictures but there is the extraordinary feeling in them of someone not knowing what he's doing ... as though he was tapping into something he didn't understand himself. ... So in a sense lack of self-knowledge was an advantage at that point.

The content of the painting, the pain and suffering of it, remain an enigma for me. Bacon was a very robust, energetic, life-loving person. He could have black moods, usually brought on by a sort of waterfall of drink. But I find going through the current exhibition that the sense of pain and loneliness is so strong. He used to say, "I'm optimistic, but about nothing."

Q:Have you made any discoveries since the book went to print?

A: There's always something bubbling up. In Venice last week somebody presented me an invitation to a show of supposed Bacon drawings. ... I walked for a long, long time and couldn't find it. But I know if I had, that I would have had serious misgivings about what I saw.

I know that there are letters that will one day surface and give more information.

We need a good film about him. ... There is a fascinating attempt called Love Is the Devil. The actors were brilliant, but it just didn't capture the feel of the man.

Q: Would you consider taking part in such a project?

A: Oh yes, it's one of the most fascinating lives of the 20th century. 





Francis Bacon


Tate Britain, London.
11 September 2008–4 January 2009.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid
3 February–19 April 2009

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
18 May–16 August 2009

Janet McKenzie, Studio International, 30/12/08


Francis Bacon (1909-1992) at Tate Britain heralds the artist’s centenary in 2009. It is the first retrospective since 1985, enabling a re-assessment of his work, although the exhibitions in Edinburgh, Francis Bacon: Portraits and Heads (2005) and Norwich, Francis Bacon in the 1950s (2006) at the Sainsbury Centre have been significant. The present exhibition is informed by the revelation, following Bacon’s death in 1992, of the contents of his studio. His working methods were revealed, especially his reliance on photographs.

In interviews, Francis Bacon insisted that he never drew, and that his compositions were intuitive. These claims were refuted by the posthumous revelation of figure studies from the 1950s. Bacon usually commenced painting a figure on to the blank canvas. In 1962 he claimed that the genesis of his paintings came whilst daydreaming. In fact his methods were often more orthodox. The works on paper and lists that came to light after his death indicate that he collected a wide range of material to use as points of reference. The present exhibition, which makes a powerful impact on the viewer, comprises 65 paintings and 13 major triptychs. It is the most comprehensive exhibition to date, which examines the artist’s sources, processes and thoughts. It is accompanied by an excellent, scholarly catalogue; edited by Matthew Gale and Chris Stephens; with essays by Martin Harrison, David Alan Mellor, Simon Ofield, Gary Tinterow and Victoria Walsh.1

Widely regarded as one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century, Francis Bacon can also be seen as one of the most powerful and searing commentators of the human condition in Britain since the Second World War, expressing unflinching images of sexuality, violence and isolation. The exhibition is profound, haunting and iconic. Bacon’s philosophy as an atheist is explored: man in a godless world is presented as simply another animal, subject to the same natural urges of violence, lust and fear. In this Bacon personified the age. The loss of faith in humanity in the late 1940s was such that the human image in art became increasingly difficult to portray. The existential despair expressed by Jean-Paul Sartre in Nausea (1938), found a visual counterpart in the images of despair and alienation of Francis Bacon, the expressionism of Oskar Kokoschka and the apocalyptic visions of Arthur Boyd. For the most part, abstraction in the visual arts dominated because, after the horrors of Auschwitz, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, artists found images of humanity impossible to create.

John Berger, formerly a harsh critic of Bacon, recently wrote:
“He repeatedly painted the human body, in discomfort or agony or want. Sometimes the pain involved looks as if it has been inflicted; more often it seems to originate from within, from the guts of the body itself, from the misfortune of being physical”.2 In spite of the hellish drama expressed, Bacon’s work is inspiring in the very dedication to the craft of painting, and the intellectual dialogue created. This is a profound exhibition, at once challenging and awesome. In spite of the bewilderment that can so often be experienced in confrontation with his painting, there is an unexpected affirmation in the choice of formal language and the precision and care applied to the act of painting: the placement of each head, each brush stroke, every subtle hue, the manner in which the figure inhabits the space, the form within the picture plane. A quiet authority is established by the artist amid the shrieking pain, due in large part to the dialogue he has with art from the past.

Bacon’s sources have been divided by various commentators now, to include ‘high art’ sources and ‘low art’ sources. Bacon chose only the most remarkable artists to aspire to: Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Velasquez and Picasso. He also chose inspiration from the modern world: men in suits, modern furniture, dangling light bulbs, gay comic books. He depicted a low-life from gangster boyfriends, heavy drinking and sexually dissipated Colony Room artists and intellectuals, a collision of high and low culture, survival and destruction.  Chance played an important role in Bacon’s work – spontaneity was of key importance in a Post-Surrealist context. Although he retained the human figure in his work, he embraced the Abstract Expressionists’ love of chance in art as in life. A primordial energy is central to many works, the Bullfight paintings in 1969 being perfect examples of how Bacon infused the image on canvas with a reckless, fatal movement. Describing the collision of illustration of facts and an expression of the very deepest feelings, Bacon noted: “one wants a thing to be as factual as possible and at the same time as deeply suggestive or deeply unlocking of areas of sensation other than simple illustration of the object that you set out to do. Isn’t that what it’s all about?”3 Bacon had the highest ambition from a young age, claiming that his work should either be in the National Gallery or the dustbin, with nothing in between. His ambition as a painter was to define his existential, atheistic stance in a post-photography world. Bacon was a habitual destroyer of paintings; in 1962 he remarked that over-working was a form of destruction, of clogging. Spontaneity was a vital quality, which Bacon sought to capture.

Francis Bacon was born in Dublin, in 1909. He spent most of his life in London, working as a self-taught painter from the 1930s. The human figure was central to his work throughout his long and productive career. He died suddenly in Madrid in 1992. Time has played an important part in the appraisal of Bacon’s work; his unflinching approach to violence and the human condition is more poignant than ever. In 1973 he attributed his preoccupation with violence and war to the times in which he grew up, interwar Germany and the rise of Sinn Fein in Ireland:

I grew up in an atmosphere of threat for a long time…And then I was in Berlin at the beginning of the Nazi thing, my whole life had been lived through a time of stress, and then World War Two, anyone who lived through the European wars was affected by them, they affected one’s whole psyche to that extent, to live continuously under an atmosphere of tension and threat.4

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue, in which the most scholarly essays, explore the lasting significance of his work for the present day. Images of the abyss, of loneliness and the inescapable suffering of human existence dominate the exhibition.

Francis Bacon at Tate Britain is broadly chronological. Room One, Animal, examines Bacon’s early work from the 1940s where his attitude to humanity is already evident. His bestial depiction of the human figure combined personal feelings of anxiety with broader references to the Second World War. He used reproductions from books, catalogues and magazines. The male figure is used repeatedly in Bacon’s long career; he often includes a scream or shout to reveal the internal repressed and violent anxieties. The open mouth represents the tension that exists between the individual and the broader context of time and place.

Room Two, Zone, examines Bacon’s work of the 1950s where he carried out complex experiments with pictorial space. He described the processes, in 1952, as ‘an attempt to lift the image outside of its natural environment’. This work established his easily recognisable images with boxed figures in cage-like structures. Hexagonal ground planes establish tense psychological zones; the use of shuttering, the vertical lines of paint merge the foreground and background. This is the period in which Bacon came of age as a painter. Yet his personal circumstances were extremely difficult: homeless, in debt and in a tempestuous relationship with Peter Lacy. During this time he searched for and found appropriate subject -matter with which to express his deepest anxiety. In the 1950s Bacon used the painting by Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, (c.1650), as his starting point to explore the insecurities of the powerful. For Bacon, the choice of the portrait of a Pope had nothing to do with religion; as a non-believer he was concerned with the way man behaves to each other. For Bacon the portrait by Velazquez was one of the greatest portraits ever painted for it opened up feelings and prompted the imagination, beyond any real individual or other art work. The colour is magnificent, prompting Bacon to give his own images a sense of tragic grandeur, a sense of authority in painterly terms. The Pope as a unique figure in the world suited Bacon’s ambition to create a powerful image in which power is stripped of its essence.

Room Three, Apprehension, explores the pervading anxiety in all of Bacon’s work. The Cold War anxiety that limited movement and personal freedom was combined in Bacon’s case with the illegality at the time of homosexuality. His sometimes, violent relationship, with Peter Lacy, is captured in the Man in Blue series, which concentrates on a single anonymous figure in a dark suit. Although inspired by the greatest artists from history, Bacon powerful images are achieved by combining the authority of the history of art, with contemporary life. The figure is portrayed in isolation, sitting at a table or at a bar. Like many artists in the twentieth century, including the Italian Futurists, who worked with the figure, Bacon drew from the photographic work of Edweard Muybridge’s, The Human Figure in Motion, (1887) sequential photographs of animals and humans, which Bacon described as ‘a dictionary’ of the body in motion.

Room Four at Tate Britain is devoted to one of Bacon’s most famous and iconic series, of the Crucifixion. He made works throughout his career at pivotal moments. As an atheist Bacon saw the Crucifixion as a particularly poignant act of man’s violence. Brutality and fear are developed in a particularly cruel evocation of the famous religious scene. The ritual of sacrifice is given a new dimension, the brutality emphasised with extreme abandon. Meat carcasses are used by Bacon to diminish the human notion of superiority in the wider scheme of life according to Christianity. In an early interview Bacon describes how existing images breed others. He chose the Crucifixion by Cimabue as a starting point, but readily admits that without all the paintings that have been done on the subject, his could not have produced his own. Often under the influence of alcohol, and prone to drug abuse, and frequently suffering acute exhaustion, Bacon would create Crucifixion images of profound despair. He also juxtaposes fragments of films, such as those of Eisenstein, and isolated stills allowing accident to play a major part in the creative process. Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, (c.1944) is a key work and one that paved the way for his use of the triptych format, and numerous later themes and compositions. The bestial depiction of the human figure was central to Bacon’s oeuvre. Displacing the traditional saints in Crucifixion paintings, Bacon later referred to them as Furies from Greek mythology.

In interview with David Sylvester in 1966, he was asked about the use of meat carcasses in these and other works. He stated, “Well, of course, we are meat, we are potential carcasses”.5 Being human in Bacon’s world was utterly debased. Bacon took works from the history of art that were created within a spiritual context and slashed them to bits. In this he felt completely justified, for the Vatican never openly condemned Nazism. This was Bacon’s vendetta for the hypocrisy played out in the name of God. Where artists such as Hieronymous Bosch created devastating images of humanity in works such as his Judgement Day paintings, Bacon chose the traditionally edifying form of portraiture, which entails a degree of trust between painter and sitter, and destroyed it. His disturbing papal images are like the burning of an effigy, leaving the viewer with a sense of physical revulsion.

Room Five Crisis, focuses on the period 1956-1961. Bacon travelled widely in Monaco, France and Africa, mostly with Peter Lacy. He used new methods of painting, choosing thicker paint, strong colour, often violently applied. Using a self-portrait, The Painter on the Road to Tarascon (1888) by Vincent Van Gogh, as his source and inspiration, Bacon painted works that were criticised for their ‘reckless energy’. With hindsight the energy and drama in these works was necessary in introducing chance into the painting process itself.

Room Six is the Archive in the Tate’s exhibition, based on the revelations made by scholars after Bacon’s death. The source material found in Bacon’s studio revealed his reliance on photography and other sources that had not been fully examined during Bacon’s lifetime. There were photographs of athletes, film stills and reproductions of works of art. Further, his practice of commissioning photographs of his friends by John Deakin was fully realised, and formed an important component of the exhibition in Edinburgh, Francis Bacon: Portraits and Heads, (2005). Bacon also took many photographs himself, preferring to draw from photographs, for they were already two-dimensional images. In his studio there were also lists of potential subjects and preparatory drawings, which Bacon had denied making, preferring to emphasise the spontaneous nature of the act of painting directly onto canvas.

Room Seven Portrait, is important given the findings in Bacon’s studio. In descriptions in interviews, most famously those with David Sylvester, Bacon describes his intention to reinvent portraiture. He drew upon the works he admired of Velazquez and Van Gogh. His abiding concern was how a painter should create portraits in an age dominated by photography. He distorted the sitter’s appearance in order to extract a greater, more complete likeness, informed by internal issues of personality and mood. George Dyer his lover is depicted with a mixture of affection and contempt. Three Figures in Room, (1964) expresses a range of human characteristics including absurdity, pathos, and isolation.

Room Eight Memorial, is dedicated to George Dyer, Bacon’s closest companion and model from the autumn of 1963. Two days before the opening of Bacon’s exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1971, Dyer committed suicide. The void created by Dyer’s death, under such tragic circumstances prompted Bacon to produce a number of works in his memory. The large-scale triptych suited the grand nature of Bacon’s statements, enabling him to isolate and juxtapose simultaneously. The energy in these works is overwhelming. The depths of despair experienced in the loss of his lover, are expressed with consummate skill and heartfelt anguish. Bacon told Sylvester shortly after Dyer’s death: “You don’t stop thinking about them; time doesn’t heal” He referred to his repeated depiction of homosexual copulation as a form of exorcism. Although he regretted its ‘sensational nature’, he was compelled to paint, Triptych, May-June, 1973, “to get it out of his system”. As well as repeated posthumous images of Dyer, he also made numerous self-portraits.6

Room Nine, Epic, examines the work Bacon produced in response to poetry and literature, particularly the work of T.S Eliot. Bacon was emphatic in wanting to make works that evoked the meaning and mood of the written word. They were not illustrations.

For me realism is an attempt to capture the appearance with the cluster of sensations that the appearance arouses in me. As for my latest triptych and a few other canvases painted after I read Aeschylus. I tried to create images of the episodes created inside me. I could not paint Agamemnon. Clytemnestra or Cassandra, as that would have been merely another kind of historical painting when all is said and done. Therefore, I tried to create an image of the effect that was produced inside me. Perhaps realism is always subjective when it is most profoundly expressed.7

Bacon felt a great affinity for poetry, perhaps more so than contemporary art. He appreciated a wide range of poetry ranging from the work of Aeschylus, W.B Yeats, Federico Garcia Lorca, Ezra Pound, William Shakespeare and especially T.S. Eliot. From Aeschylus’ Oresteia Bacon found an evocative image: “the reek of human blood smiles out at me”.8 In turn Bacon admired T.S. Eliot’s recasting of Greek tragedy, seeing in it an appropriate model for modern society. Bacon appreciated Eliot’s preoccupation with, ‘mortality, the pathetic futility and solitude of life’, and the manner in which he located ‘those existential conditions within a specific set of modern circumstances’.9

Bacon’s description of the tightrope between abstraction and figuration can also be used for poetry. “You have to abbreviate into intensity”, he remarked, also an apt description for Eliot’s poetry. Bacon chose painting to assuage the futility of life as he saw it. “I think that man now realises that he is an accident, that he is a completely futile being, that he has to play out the game within reason... You can be optimistic and totally without hope”. Later, he said, “I think of life as meaningless; but we give it meaning during our existence”.10 By contrast, Eliot had a Christian faith and belief in an afterlife.

The use of triptych, Bacon insisted was its resistance to narrative: “it breaks the series up and prevents it having a story, that’s why the three panels are always framed separately”. Yet the sequence created by three canvases side by side could equally create a story through the interrelatedness of the three images and specific references within each. Specific intended meaning is always speculative in Bacon’s work. The triptych emphasises Bacon’s fascination with theatrical devices to observe the human condition. Likewise Eliot’s Wasteland, ‘describes specific scenes and events but does not tie them to a single story’.11

Room Ten Late, examines the last decade of Bacon’s life. The confrontation with mortality was an abiding theme in his work, having lost key figures in his life already. In 1993 he stated: “Life and death go hand in hand …Death is like the shadow of life. When you’re dead, you’re dead, but while you’re alive, the idea of death pursues you”.12 The very black paintings made in the 1970s which confronted the death of George Dyer, gave way to more contemplative works, with a palpable restraint and composure. In several paintings he draws on his admiration for the work of the nineteenth-century French painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Numerous reproductions of Ingres’ work were found in his studio, which he combined with incongruous images from sporting figures. Bacon also employed a controlled element of chance by throwing paint at the canvas. The aftermath of violence, blood gushing from a victim onto the pavement, for example, Bacon found exhilarating. Blood on Pavement, (c1988) is presented with the artist’s extraordinary detachment. “Things are not shocking if they haven’t been put into a memorable form. Otherwise, it’s just blood splattered against a wall.”13 The theme of detachment from violence and suffering is achieved throughout Bacon’s oeuvre, from an early Wound for a Crucifixion (c.1934) to the Bullfight works in the 1960s to Oedipus and the Sphinx after Ingres, (1983). The last paintings are the antithesis of Bacon’s early frenzied works, and have been criticised for being formulaic and lacking in tension. They have a monumentality and order, yet returning to the same themes that had occupied him for forty years. His last triptych of 1991 returns to the issue of sexual struggle, which permeates much of his life’s work. His most private feelings are laid bare, and to which he referred in 1971/3,  “I’m just trying to make images as accurately off my nervous system as I can. I don’t even know what half of them mean. I’m not trying to say anything”.14


1. Matthew Gale and Chris Stephens, Francis Bacon, Tate Publishing, London, 2008.
2. John Berger, Prophet in a pitiless world,
The Guardian 29 May 2004.
3. Gale and Stephens, On the Margin of the Impossible, op.cit., p.26.
4. Quoted by Stephens, Epic, op.cit., p.218.
5. Quoted by Matthew Gale, Crucifixion, ibid, p.137.
6. Chris Stephens, Epic, ibid, p.214.
7. Ibid, p.216.
8. Gale and Stephens, op.cit., p.26.
9. Ibid, p.26.
10. Ibid, p.26.
Epic, op.cit., p. 213.
12. Rachel Tant, Late, p.233.
13. Ibid, p.233.
14. Ibid, p.237.


Francis Bacon’s Strange Sizzle


By Mario Naves, The New York Observer, June 19, 2009


Francis Bacon, a retrospective timed to the centenary anniversary of the artist’s birth (he died in 1992 at the age of 83) is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, hs toothy monsters, humping, anonymous men and slabs of meat installed directly off the European wing, a stone’s throw from Rembrandt, Goya and Velazquez.

Bacon would have been pleased by the proximity. Though his contorted figures owe a significant debt to Picasso—their roiling distortions being an almost sculptural equivalent of Cubism’s pictorial fracturing—Bacon’s charnel-house dioramas are, in pivotal ways, unmodern. (Given Bacon’s distaste for abstraction, the pictures could be considered anti-modern.) The ready-made gravitas and epic nature inherent in the tradition of Western painting suited Bacon’s flashy ambitions—hence, the bald reliance on Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, Grunewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece and the heaving musculature of Michelangelo’s nudes.

But Bacon was, if not a strict Modernist, then certainly a creature of the modern age. A niggling strain of Surrealism infiltrates the work, as does the collage aesthetic: His compositions are piecemeal affairs, with their uninflected planes of flat color, malleable forms and decal-like figures. His philosophical mien, a lean variant of Nietzschean atheism, is reflective of a more-jaded-than-thou postwar intellectualism. “I haven’t got any morals to preach,” Bacon stated. “I just work as closely to my nerves as I can.” A miserable narcissism permeates the work.

Then there’s the almost Warholian poaching of mass media. Bacon mimicked to startling effect the filmed image—his gauzy slurs of oil paint take on a ghostly, cinematic allure. His sources ranged from Eisenstein’s Battlship Potemkin and Eadweard Muybridge’s The Human Figure in Motion to beefcake magazines like MANifique and Man-O-Rama, newspaper clippings of Himmler and Goebbels and photo-booth self-portraits. You can see actual examples of Bacon’s image stockpile at the Met, much of it grubby with paint. It’s a devastating testament to Bacon’s paintings that the reference materials are sometimes more diverting than what he made of them.

The Met show is fairly selective, but it’s endless all the same. How much designer Grand Guignol does one person need? Bacon’s vaunted embrace of chance incident—that would be the ejaculatory blurts of paint flung directly from the tube—are no less false than the late triptychs, wherein we see an artist who’s become a sheepish victim to his own style. It’s the overweening calculation of Bacon’s art, its soulless theatricality, that marks him not as a descendant of the Old Masters but as a progenitor of corporate nihilists like Damian Hirst, Jake and Dinos Chapman and Jenny Saville. Like them, Bacon makes a provocative first impression, but then leaves us with little more than a cold rush of artifice.

Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue, until August 16th


  bringing home the bacon


      museums & galleries


       by Michael Slenske, NYCGO, 9 June, 2009



                               Study for a Portrait 1953 Francis Bacon



Beleaguered businessmen. Warmongering dictators. Images of human beings in agony. Sound familiar? These all could have been front-page topics in The New York Times in recent weeks. They're also subjects that artist Francis Bacon explored in the provocative brand of figurative painting he developed after the end of World War II. Largely chided by American critics in the '50s and '60s for his rejection of abstract expressionism, the painter is getting his full due at the Metropolitan Museum of career-spanning exhibition Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective.

The show, which began on May 20, is the first major retrospective of Bacon's work since his death 17 years ago at the age of 82. Bacon was born in Ireland and worked in London during his career. As an introduction to the artist, the show documents the painter's explosion onto the European art scene in 1945 with the compellingly violent triptych Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, which shows mutated, anthropomorphic figures undergoing some kind of severe agony. Then in chronological fashion, the exhibition journeys through Bacon's famously animalistic figure studies and self-portraits from the '50s, '60s and '70s—one of which sold at auction to Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich last year for $86 million—without overlooking the artist's technically proficient, if slightly less provocative, reinterpretations of his own earlier work that he painted at the end of his career.

"There's an amazing continuity in Bacon," says Chris Stephens, the curator who originally conceived the show and selected the work for its first incarnation at London's Tate Britain gallery last fall. "What he's seeking to express is pretty much the same at the end as it was at the beginning. But the way he paints changes fundamentally. After 1952 his painting becomes much more extravagant, much more baroque, whereas in the '50s it's surprisingly subtle. That prompted us to reinforce this sense of stylistic and technical development."

Bacon's work remains utterly relevant today: his figurative distortions have inspired a spate of contemporary artists, including Damien Hirst, and the scenes and situations he depicts have an eerie resonance with the issues of our own era.

Fascinated with the advent of the camera as the primary medium for image reproduction, Bacon slavishly distorted photographic images from newspapers and magazines for his paintings. He also rendered an iconic series of thoroughly modern interpretations of Diego Velázquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X that have a vitality and emotional edge similar to those of live performance.

The exhibition presents Bacon's oeuvre while providing a sense of the context in which he was working, his working method and artistic influences. "The crucial development was the opening of his studio and the revelation of the archive," says Stephens of the piles of reference materials that were found in Bacon's studio after his death. Though these materials have helped to demystify some of the more inscrutable aspects of Bacon's work, pulling back the curtain on the wizard can also have its drawbacks.

"I think it's great for visitors to see what kind of images he collected and think about how they were transformed into his pictures," says Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Gary Tinterow. "But it's not at all what Bacon wanted, and I don't think in any way it's necessary for a person to know about or experience the archival material in order to fully appreciate his pictures. I think they stand completely on their own."

The studio materials are presented much as they were at the Tate exhibition, but, Tinterow says, the Met hung the show in a much more chronological fashion and included some self-portraits and "Pope" paintings that weren't shown in London or at a subsequent show at Madrid's Museo Nacional del Prado. The Met exhibition also includes references to Bacon's homosexuality—a fact largely brushed over by 20th-century American critics—in the exhibition text and acoustic guides.

"I think there's a sense that both his way of painting and subject matter and his proclivities didn't fit the American story of the history of art," says Stephens. "He was a masochist. He enjoyed having people beat him up, frankly. He's sort of a seedy character. In Britain he kind of prided himself that he could shift from dealing with the aristocracy to dealing with a gangster from the East End and a bit of rough trade. Something about that works in London but doesn't translate maybe to New York."

There's no denying Bacon's work will strike a visceral chord or two. The fact that his entire range of work—much of which focused on the animalistic tendencies of humankind—is being shown as our politicians are busy debating the effectiveness of torture will undoubtedly evoke its fair share of intellectual responses as well. "We opened our show [at the Tate] the week Lehman Brothers collapsed—the beginning of the meltdown—and there was a weird suitability about it," recalls Stephens. "But it was hugely successful—not just the numbers of people but the buzz around the show. It really hit a nerve."

Tinterow reflects that this is precisely what Bacon intended to evoke with his work. "Just in the way you can hear something on the radio and it can make you cry, and you're not sure why," he observes, "I think Bacon wanted his imagery to hit you in that same way. Not in an intellectual and knowing way, but in a strong, emotional way."



Christie’s Is Sued After Francis Bacon Painting Fails to Sell



The New York Times, March 20, 2009 



Christie’s is being sued by a family trust led by the Connecticut collector George A. Weiss, who says the auction house reneged on a $40 million guarantee when it tried but failed to sell a 1964 painting by Francis Bacon in November.


The lawsuit, filed in the United States Southern District Court on Friday, claims that Christie’s, in competition with archrival Sotheby’s, agreed to give the trust, Weiss Family Art, a guarantee — a sum promised to the seller regardless of the sale’s outcome — of $40 million for the painting. In order to win the consignment from Sotheby’s, Christie’s sweetened its deal and won the business.


An agreement was struck in late July, but by September, after the auction house already had the painting, Christie’s said it would no longer honour the guarantee because of the faltering global economy.


Christie’s was not able to sell the painting. Now the trust is suing for the $40 million it says it was promised, plus interest. The president of Christie’s was traveling on Friday and could not be reached for comment.



                                    Study for Self Portrait 1964 Francis Bacon






Christie’s Auction House Sued Over Francis Bacon Guarantee


By Erik Larson Bloomberg, March 20, 2009


March 20 (Bloomberg) – Christie’s International’s New York unit was sued by a Florida art collector over claims the auction house failed to sell as promised a self-portrait by Irish painter Francis Bacon for at least $40 million.

Christie’s, based in London, owes the minimum guarantee to collector George Weiss after his 1964 Study for Self Portrait by Bacon failed to find a buyer at the auctioneer’s November 2008 Post War and Contemporary Art sale, according to a breach-of-contract complaint filed today in federal court in New York.

Christie’s and rival Sotheby’s in July 2008 made competing offers to Weiss to include the painting in their respective auctions, according to the complaint. In September, after Weiss chose Christie’s, the auction house said it wouldn’t follow through on the minimum-bid guarantee, citing “the changed climate of the art market,” according to the complaint.

“For years, the major auction houses, including Christie’s and Sotheby’s, have offered guaranteed price arrangements for select works in order to bring major pieces to market,” Weiss said in the complaint. “Christie’s reneged upon the minimum price guarantee.”

Toby Usnik, a Christie’s spokesman, declined to comment, citing company policy.

The case is Weiss Family Art (Bacon) LLC v. Christie’s Inc., 09-cv-2598, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan). 



The Accelerated Grimace



In time for the Francis Bacon exhibition at Tate Britain, Grey Gowrie publishes his introduction for the 1988 Moscow exhibition in English for the first time



by  Grey Gowrie, The Alligator, 16th January 2009



In September 1988, in the dying days of the Soviet Union, the British Council organised an exhibition of the work of Francis Bacon in Moscow. Bacon (1909-1992) planned to attend the opening but decided at the last minute not to. Grey Gowrie, a Minister for the Arts in Margaret Thatcher’s administration and by this time European chairman of Sotheby’s, was a friend of the painter and represented him. Lord Gowrie also provided the introductory essay to the catalogue of the exhibition which was translated into Russian. It is republished here in English for the first time to coincide with the Francis Bacon exhibition at Tate Britain. Famished for unofficial art, and no doubt bored by Soviet programming, more than 100 million people tuned into the Moscow exhibition on television. 

The 20th century has been called the age of anxiety. Certainly it is an age of extremes. Life lived against the edge, the extremity of the human experience is, even vicariously, electric with nervous stress. Scientific progress is double-edged. In the industrialised world people live longer, are better nourished, entertain ideas, at least, of developing their creative potential. Through film and television and the pervasive influence of photography they are bombarded with images of what life can or should be. At the same time they are made aware that this civilisation of cars and central heating and pain killing drugs has entertained more horrors than any since the dark ages. Visual technology transmits the parts of the globe which have been left out of the development race or, worse still, allows people to view skyscrapers and bars and hospitals beside open-drained hovels only a few metres away. Throughout the advanced societies, the great central images which once governed people’s lives have cracked or broken down: the religious icons which reminded them, however briefly, of matters richer than their own concerns. We live in an age of political and scientific materialism which is nevertheless uncomfortably aware of the psychological limits of materialism. We are aware of the physical limits as well, of an earth threatened by tools of peace as well as weapons of war. No wonder that we are an anxious species, or that artists, who hold up mirrors to our condition, are nervous themselves of attempting those images of an idealised experience which art used to provide.

Since the death of Picasso, Francis Bacon has more than any other painter provided the age with an image, in Ezra Pound’s phrase, of its accelerated grimace. The key to his work is its ambition. He has taken on the great masters of the past without their mythological resources or their requirement to record events. At the same time he has turned his back on the abstract artist’s indulgence in decorative introspection: the painting whose principal subject is itself and the fact that someone painted it. Although his subject matter, the visual impulse which triggers his attempts to fashion an image on canvas, derives from his own sensibility and is to that extent egoistic, Bacon is the least narcissistic of artists. He uses some recollection or preoccupation which is at hand, so to speak, as a prompt for an act of painting. But it is the paint alone, and what happens as a result of its being pushed around on the canvas, which can provide an image of great externality and force, influencing the viewer with a life of its own and doing this independently of the artist. Bacon is in some respects closer to being a sculptor than a painter. The background to his paintings, which are applied at the end, act as a kind of plinth for the images poised upon them. It is sad that Bacon’s eminence occasions, as is often the case with major artists, so much photographic reproduction of his work. The physical grandeur, the sensual texture of his paint outweighs the often horrifying imagery it encapsulates. In reproduction it is the imagery that tells.

“He has taken on the great masters of the past without their mythological resources or their requirement to record events”

Bacon is descended from his great Elizabethan namesake, Shakespeare’s contemporary and an ancestor of the English scientific enlightenment. In his late 70’s now, though looking and talking like a man fifteen years younger, he lives alone in two rooms in central London. He works continually at present, sees a few close friends, eats and drinks very well, gambles with less Doskovieskian intensity than before. He is a man of great but narrow erudition, narrow because he is impatient of anything less than masterpieces and impatient also of masterpieces which he cannot harness to his own art. He is an asthmatic who dislikes the countryside: an urban, noctambular spirit. His bleak view of human life does not stop him enjoying it; indeed he has said in an interview that the aim of art – however violent or sad or grim - is to produce joy. He is good company and generous with money in the way of one who has had to hustle for a living in youth and now has more than he needs. Politically, he is an old-fashioned aristocratic liberal with a low threshold of boredom. He has said that in recent years he has supported the Conservatives, because they are marginally less interfering of individual liberty than political groups on the Left; he is savage about the way modern states interfere with citizens’ lives for their own good. He has refused to be honoured. The British admire his eminence but do not know quite what to make of him: an elegant, wealthy, rather conservative gentleman who paints such scary pictures.

“His bleak view of human life does not stop him enjoying it; indeed he has said in an interview that the aim of art is to produce joy”

Nevertheless he is the greatest living painter and the most important Britain has produced since Turner. This is a large claim but it is shared by a remarkable number of people round the world, many of them painters, rather few of them British. To us natives, it is still difficult to recognise how distinct Bacon and the sculptor Henry Moore have made us in the visual arts. Our cultural establishment is musical and literary in outlook; we take our theatrical tradition, and Shakespeare, for granted; since the Beatles we can command a world stage in popular music. Seeing and touching, by contrast, belong to the slightly seditious universe of pure sensation and both our puritan and idealistic strands of thought make us suspect appearances. Happily, these two great men have encouraged more than one generation of artists now to build on their achievements and make international names.

Of the two, Bacon is the more surprising. Henry Moore’s work is permeated with the English love of nature. He gives simple and powerful signals about the correspondence between landscapes and female figures. He reinforces life’s primal effects, as if the poet Wordsworth were working in stone. Francis Bacon is not a romantic artist in this way, although he shares the aristocratic intuitiveness of later romantics like Baudelaire. He has the nihilism and gaiety of certain 18th century minds. Nature, when it appears at all in his work, is both threatening and monotonous: purposeless matter unrelieved by the flicker of civilisation’s match. One of his greatest paintings, Landscape near Malabata, Tangier (1963), is a picture of a tree. It demonstrates the way colour, not drawing, is movement in painting, and how a tree’s sinews suggest muscular movement. But try to people this landscape and you are in the world of Beckett’s Godot or King Lear. A more recent work, Sand Dune (1981), is a picture of sand encroaching a building by the sea. The sand is all movement, dynamic; the building is being eaten and that will be the end of it because nature is in the business of demolition. To fly in the face of nature you need luck and the peculiar courage to stare her down. To adapt a line of the poet Thom Gunn, a few friends and a few with historical names have had the courage. A number of artists – Cimabue, Velasquez, Rembrandt, Degas, Picasso – have looked without blinking. Otherwise, existence is the same as nature: food, drink, territory, sex and status. Bacon is an artist of endgame. His work is a lifespan distant from Moore’s family groups or mothers-with-child.

Classical and romantic are hoary old terms but they provide us with a shorthand, yet to be superseded, for a profound and permanent divide, a creative conflict, within our sensibility. The classical approach represents tradition and training. Its focus is on the human clay and on proportions suitable for the configuration of the body. ‘The lengthened shadow of a man/Is history, said Emerson,’ wrote T. S. Eliot, the great classical poet of our century and one who has always haunted Bacon, in his poem Sweeney Erect. The fascination of the classical artist is the way he bends tradition and training to his own purpose, be that subjective and self-realising, or objective in the sense of realising or trying to imitate a world beyond the self. The permanent things in nature are birth, copulation and death; the ruins of time, man’s time, are what interest the classicist and provide him with his forms. The romantic says, with the 19th century poet Hopkins, that the sensibility soars above its terrestrial confines: ‘O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall/, Frightful, sheer, no-man fathomed.’

“Nature is in the business of demolition. To fly in the face of nature you need luck and the peculiar courage to stare her down”

This being the case, the classical artist is preoccupied with realism. Bacon is passionate for realism, only he would argue that now photography has made reportage redundant you need realism of another kind: the ability to capture the emotional energy thrown off by any living presence. Added to this is the energy which works of art generate themselves. In a recent interview he said:

‘I have just finished three portraits of a friend and the problem, as usual, was how to make an image and keep the likeness. To combine the two is what creates tension and excitement.’

The Study for Portrait of John Edwards (1988) is as ‘like’ as a photograph but with so much density of form that it has an object-life of its own. Because of the force of his painting, some commentators have confused Bacon with the Expressionists. They attribute to him an unsettling, northern sensibility. Bacon insists this is wrong. He is adamant that he is not an expressionist, believing in truthfulness rather than effects. The disturbing quality of his work comes partly from what Michel Leiris, quoting Bacon himself, has called his ‘exhilarated despair…the painful yet lyrical disturbance felt by all those who, living in these times of horror spangled with enchantment, can contemplate them with lucidity.’ It also comes, more prosaically, from what Bacon would see as his failure to win the fight between the raw material of oil paint and the mind’s eye. When Bacon does win, as in the Edwards portrait, his paintings are both awesome and tender, moving in the highest and most humane way. Yet even in the most violent pictures, the distortions of his figures are implicit in their own flesh. This is where he comes closest to Picasso.

To an existential artist like Bacon, chance is very important, both as a rubric for the universe (his hobby is roulette) and for what it brings about on the canvas. Lying Figure (1969) is one of a number of works painted in the 1960’s in which a naked, usually female figure lies on a bed, the head south to the viewer, limbs akimbo, bed and body seemingly about to slide down a great escarpment of carpet. Facial features are blurred as if they and the pigment from which they are formed had been pummelled into the final image. (This is often literally the case, since Bacon paints with rags and his hands as well as with brush). Stripped of their associations, not least the threat to civilised values and human dignity suggested by hypodermic digging into vein, these paintings have the vibrance – the beauty even – of colour which early in his career Bacon found in a medical textbook about diseases of the mouth. Bacon’s surgeon’s aesthetics and sang-froid take some getting used to. They are worth it because they are bound up with his special lucidity of purpose. Look how close oil paint comes to the stuff of life, he seems to say. You are used to this happening with clouds and hills in landscape painting. Why not discover it with the body as well? If the painter is lucky, impulses of memory and desire may allow him to manipulate the stuff so as to trap elusive and temporal personalities, and our feelings about them. Bacon does not paint from life. His subjects are a few friends and himself, painted over and over, in some cases after they have died, from snapshots and memory. Bacon himself looks very like a Francis Bacon. In this respect he is close to his admired contemporary, the painter and sculptor Giacometti. And as John Russell wrote in his book Francis Bacon (1971), ‘Bacon when he wishes is one of the great painters of human flesh and can give it a kind of creamy resonance, a fulfilled soft firmness, for which both Ingres and Courbet had also been searching.’

Ambition, in art, requires not only high seriousness but sufficient personal confidence and aplomb to take on the masters at their own game. Bacon’s belief in un-accommodated man, his identification during the two decades after the war with London’s low life, his gambling, his generosity with money and caustic wit, his frightening ability to drink a great deal and remain at the height of his powers, his age-cheating appearance – all play their part in his anti-heroic legend. By contrast, his career has been altogether steadfast and determined. He was a late starter. He was born and spent much of his childhood in Ireland, where his father trained racehorses. There is a lot of Ireland in Bacon but it is reasonable to think of Bacon as Irish only in the way of thinking of Camus as Algerian. He was educated haphazardly and travelled about Europe in the late 1920s. Berlin and Paris held his imagination and Paris remains the city which most admires his work.

He made his historical debut about 1930 as an interior decorator and furniture designer; he worked in what is today called the Art Deco style, a popularisation of cubism and geometric abstraction. He studied the art of Picasso, at that time involved in attenuated semi-geometrical figure paintings which were beginning to look haunted and surreal. Inspired, he taught himself to paint. His early work, nearly all of which he subsequently destroyed, gave abstracted hominoid shapes a similarly heightened air – sometimes by little references to the Western religious tradition. His work was not well received and he was turned down for the International Surrealist Exhibition in 1936. He himself dates his career from the 1944 triptych Three Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion in the Tate Gallery.

“Bacon’s belief in un-accommodated man, his identification during the two decades after the war with London’s low life, his gambling, his generosity with money and caustic wit, his frightening ability to drink a great deal and remain at the height of his powers, his age-cheating appearance – all play their part in his anti-heroic legend”

At first glance, this work still owes much to Picasso. It is a study, like the paintings and sketches of the Guernica period, of how to assault the nervous system of an onlooker with formal equivalents for pain, mental stress, distortions not of art merely but of daily living and his own hold upon it. Closer acquaintance suggest that here is someone who has looked hard and imaginatively at the Baroque tradition of wrenching the figure until it is, literally, dragged towards that self-extension known as the sublime. Although the triptych is a very strong, even a terrifying picture, one is at least as much aware of the scepticism and control underlying the element of shock. It is as if the artist were playing ‘touch’ with theatrical excess and learning to paint on the dangerous Baroque margin between going very far and going too far.

Bacon then dropped the linear, attenuated style of the triptych in favour of something much more solid. He was discovering oil paint’s correspondence with the density of the observed world: the Bourbet road to nature. Key paintings were Figure Study I and Figure Study II (both 1945-6), the latter also known as the Magdalene. These paintings seem to have inaugurated the interest in clothes (no other 20th century painter has rendered them so attentively) which reflected Bacon’s preoccupation with Velasquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X and led to his own robed and enthroned popes, Head VI (1949) for example. A strong formal understanding of the kind of space clothes are designed to occupy draws shocking, and effective, attention to the absence ofany owner – or the presence, in the case of Figure Study II, of the wrong owner. “´What modern man wants,`” Bacon has said, quoting Valéry, “´is the grin without the cat`: the sensation without the boredom of its conveyance.” Throughout his career, he has attempted to combine psychological immediacy – his chamber of horrors side – with whatever formal mechanics are most likely to allow the viewer to retain the pained image until it moves into memory and becomes a way of looking at the world. In the years following the war this search led Bacon to solidity at all cost. The Magdalene has the poise of a Giotto figure, so much presence that the umbrella half-concealing her becomes a convincing frame and not the gratuitous surreal emblem for which it is sometimes mistaken. Thirty years later we see it again, in the left panel of Triptych (1974-77): quarry for Bacon iconographers, along with light bulbs, blinds, plumbing, cricket pads and newspapers.

In the following decade, Bacon juxtaposed violent historical signs of our era with the gravities, hollow maybe, but socially and spiritually well anchored, of earlier epochs of painting. His habit of working from photographs and news clippings is everywhere apparent. Himmler and Goebbels, silent or in oratorical flood; Nadar’s captivating photograph of Baudelaire’s sidelong look; people rushing for shelter during street fighting in Petrograd in 1917; Marius Maxwell’s photographs of animals in equatorial Africa; the screaming nurse from Eisenstein’s film Potemkin; a postcard of the Promenade des Anglais in Nice – all appear and reappear as if they were slabs from some lost fresco of devastating formality and scale. There is the same feeling of a civilisation undergoing nervous breakdown that we find in Eliot’s poem The Waste Land (‘These fragments I have shored against my ruin.’) although the prevailing mood is relish rather than disgust. Bacon would bring technical devices out into the open and reinstate them as images. The famous boxes which circumscribe his male nudes, popes, business executives and monkeys start life as methods of containing space and end it as prisons out of Kafka or, prophetically, scenes from the trial of Eichmann. His brush strokes become rapid at this time (he does no preliminary drawing) and blur into one another. So originates the suggestion of the flesh poised, like that of M. Valdemar in Poe’s horrifying tale, on the edge of putrefaction

“There is the same feeling of a civilisation undergoing nervous breakdown that we find in Eliot’s poem The Waste Land”

In recent years the work has in the main turned from public to private scenes, although the image of President Wilson in Triptych (1986-87) must be one of Bacon’s greatest paintings. Bacon’s originality is on as firm ground here, and slightly less susceptible to the aesthetics of shock. It can be said against him, however, that his paintings of men defecating or vomiting lack the grace which Degas found in women’s exercise of natural functions. They look as if their purpose were epater le bourgeois and they do. Memory traces of friends, nudes and the urban interiors which provide a natural setting for all but our least superficial human encounters are recreated, hit and miss, in the large body of work which made his international name. Bacon is unique in this century in his ability to render the indoor, overfed, alcohol-and-tobacco-lined flesh of the average urban male. His painting is how most of us look. Bacon paints beds, platforms, chairs and sofas with the attention Courbet gave to rocks. The effect is a suffocating enclosure: the landscape of hell done as hell’s hotel bedroom; the non-world of Sartre’s Huis Clos and Beckett’s Endgame. The implied theatricality seems to be deliberate. Compositional layout is very much like a stage set; at any moment another figure, bearing hypodermic or ashtray, may enter left or right. Sofas and tables have, like flesh, puffed out and turned flabby, their Art Deco youthfulness long gone. Not surprisingly, the great Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus (1981) discovers a theatricality appropriate to its purpose. The Oresteia plays are an abiding inspiration for Bacon, as they are the most powerful image in literature of mankind trapped by its history and its own sensibility. But in general all these interiors reveal a truism of art impossible to over-emphasize. The function of any artistic medium is to make the recipient work: to offer interchange, metamorphosis, the telescopic sliding-together of our perceptions until they are gathered back to their solitary neural source, there to be stored, reprocessed and used.

Like Eliot’s early poetry, Bacon’s paintings are documentaries of nervous stress. Given the era in which we find ourselves living, this comes as no surprise. What is surprising is the attempt to endow our diminished psychological circumstances with painting which can achieve the formal grandeur and beauty of texture of the very greatest old masters. These characteristics remain, in his best paintings, long after the initial assault on the system has worn off. When things work, therefore, the quality achieved is joy, which is, as Bacon said it should be, the purpose of art.

The Alligator is extremely grateful to Tate Britain for permission to use its images. The Francis Bacon exhibition is on until 4th January and the Alligator strongly recommends going to see it.





       Lot 11/ Sale 7704  11 February 2009  London, King Street


      Francis Bacon (1909 - 1992)  Man in Blue VI 




                                                  Man in Blue VI  1954  Francis Bacon




£4,000,000 - £6,000,000 ($5,932,000 - $8,898,001)  Unsold 

Lot Description

Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
Man in Blue VI
oil on canvas
60 1/8 x 46in. (152.7 x 116.8cm.)
Painted in 1954

Special Notice

No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.


Hanover Gallery, London.
Luca Scacchi Gracco, Milan.
Brook Street Gallery, London.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in November 1971.


R. Alley, Francis Bacon, London 1964, no. 86 (illustrated, unpaged).


London, Hanover Gallery, Francis Bacon, June-July 1954.
Milan, Luca Scacchi Gracco, Dali, de Chirico, Dubuffet, Fontana, Magritte, Matta, Poliakoff, Moore, 1962, no. 4 (illustrated).
London, Tate Gallery, Francis Bacon, May-July 1962, no. 36. This exhibition later travelled to Turin, Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna, September-October 1962; Zurich, Kunsthaus, October-November 1962 and Amsterdam, Stedelijk Musuem, January-February 1963.
Naples, Galleria Il Centro, Bacon-Sutherland, March-April 1963.
London, Barbican Art Gallery, Capital Painting, April-June 1984 (illustrated in colour, on the cover).
Lugano, Museo d'Arte Moderna, Francis Bacon, March-May 1993, no. 21 (illustrated, p. 49).
Norwich, Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, Francis Bacon: Paintings from the 1950s, September-December 2006, no. 17 (illustrated in colour, p. 89). This exhibition later travelled to Milwaukee, Milwaukee Art Museum, January-April 2007 and Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, May-July 2007.
Milan, Palazzo Reale, BACON, March-June 2008, no. 16 (illustrated in colour, p. 103).

Lot Notes

'I've always hoped to put over things as directly and rawly as I possibly can...if you say something very directly to somebody, they're sometimes offended, although it is a fact. Because people tend to be offended by facts, or what used to be called the truth.' (Francis Bacon cited in David Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact, Interviews with Francis Bacon, London 1990, p. 48)

Man in Blue VI is one of a series of seven major paintings that Bacon made in the spring of 1954 and later exhibited at the Hanover Gallery in London in June of the same year. Consisting solely of a lone male figure dressed in a suit and seated at a bar-like desk in an open or transparent cage-like structure amidst a seemingly infinite expanse of deep-blue, each of these works is a stark, intense and electrifying portrait of an unknown man that Bacon had met while living in the Imperial Hotel in Henley-on-Thames.

Among the finest of Bacon's creations from this period, this series of paintings was made at the height of an extremely intense and difficult period for the artist when he was living a ramshackle and unsettled life in the wake of the first flush of his romance with Peter Lacy. Lacy, a tough ex-Spitfire pilot with sado-masochistic tendencies was the first, and Bacon was later to say only, great love of the artist's life. He was a complicated and deeply troubled man whom Bacon had first met at the Colony Room in London in 1953 and with whom, instantaneously, he had fallen helplessly in love. Indeed, the main reason that Bacon was living in a hotel in Henley in early 1954 was in order to be near Lacy with whom he had previously shared a cottage in the nearby village of Hurst. The obsessive, divisive, and often violent nature of their mutually destructive relationship, however, was never to allow such proximity to last for very long and, after moving away to lick his wounds and a brief period of wandering, Bacon found the Imperial Hotel the temporary solution to his emotional troubles. 'It was like the song.' Bacon once said, 'I couldn't live with him and a I couldn't live without him...Being in love that way, being absolutely physically obsessed by someone, is like an illness, it's like a disease, a disease so ghastly I wouldn't wish it on my own worst enemy.' (Francis Bacon cited in Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon in the 1950s, London, 2006, pp. 40 and 42)

During this period Bacon found it incredibly difficult to work. The unsettled and problematic nature of his relationship with Lacy, which would often culminate in a bout of violence visited upon Bacon and any of his canvases that Lacy could find, combined with the almost nomadic lifestyle that Bacon was now living, meant that the artist finished relatively few works at this time. It is however now evident that many of the works that he did manage to produce, such as the Popes, the Sphinxes, Two Figures Wrestling or Figure with Meat, for example, were extraordinary paintings that were scaling new heights and ranked among his very best work.

Bacon himself may have been aware of this, even writing to Erica Brausen at the Hanover Gallery, from the Imperial Hotel, apologizing for his lack of production but asking her not to mount an exhibition using earlier paintings already in the gallery but to wait for new ones that he hoped to provide her with by the end of the year. The seven Man in Blue paintings, all of which, with the exception of Man in Blue VII were shown at the Hanover Gallery alongside one Sphinx painting in June 1954, were produced in a sudden burst of activity that appears to have followed soon after this undated letter. All portraits of the unknown man Bacon had recently met, and probably seduced, at the hotel in Henley, these paintings are powerful studies in isolation that build on the recent developments of the artist's Popes and Head Studies of 1953.

In this series of paintings Bacon has pared down the screaming agony of the heads and popes of the previous year into a sequence of portraits of an ordinary figure pulsating with life and apparent inner turmoil isolated at the centre of a dark void. The cage-like structure - a prophetic anticipation of the glass-box used at Adolf Eichmann's trial in Jerusalem - and the striated 'shuttering' strips of paint suggesting curtains and continued into the disturbing blurred features of the man's face in several works have here been carried forward from the screaming pope pictures into the bleak and sterile environment of a modern office. The extremely daring minimalist form and stark two-tone colour of the suit and the office-box in these works, appear to imprison the evidently animated flesh or meat of the figure which, in this work (Man in Blue IV) in particular, shimmers with an almost electric energy.

Although ostensibly a portrait of the man Bacon had met in Henley, the nervous intensity that Bacon bestows upon this figure is also reflective of the tremulous states of mind shared by Bacon and Lacy at this time. It has been a common feature of much writing on Bacon to point out how the powerful presence of Lacy's features and neurotic personality haunts and even underpins much of the artist's work, from the Popes and anonymous Heads to portraits of other known figures even those that Bacon made from the life mask of William Blake. Bacon himself addressed this feature of his work when answering a question put to him about such paintings as the Man in Blue series. When asked if he was aware that his pictures of men alone in rooms conveyed to him the sense of claustrophobia or unease that they produced for many people, Bacon replied that he was not aware of it but pointed out, in what David Sylvester interpreted as a 'tacit reference to Peter Lacy', that 'most of those pictures were done of somebody who was always in a state of unease, and whether that has been conveyed through these pictures I don't know. But I suppose, in attempting to trap this image, that, as this man was very neurotic and almost hysterical, this may possibly have come across in the paintings.' (Francis Bacon cited in David Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon London, 2000, p. 70) This statement may also, it seems, have referred to the unknown 'man in blue'.

The Man in Blue series marked a rare departure for Bacon being one that, in part at least, he appears to have painted from life in the Imperial Hotel rather than, as was more usually his practice, to use photographic imagery as a prompt that enabled him to 'drift' more 'freely' through the image. Each of the paintings is a variation on the theme of a lone figure, lost or trapped in a dark void. As well as being daringly minimalist with its bleak empty expanse of monochrome painted canvas and its severe modern geometric grid, there is, in the manner of much of Alberto Giacometti's work, something deeply existential about the way Bacon has depicted this small isolated but intensely animate and vital figure against such a vast and bleak background. In Man In Blue IV in particular, the almost miraculously painted face of the man, betrays a terrifying sense of the sitter's inner life - an intensely animated force - that contrasts dramatically with the overt nothingness of his surroundings, establishing a visual echo of Bacon's own darkly existential view of life: 'here you are, existing for a second, then brushed off like flies on the wall.'

It is in the extraordinary magic of the face of this figure, one that with its striated 'shuttering' and sensual but grimacing mouth echoes those of the screaming popes and the agonized Studies for a Human Head, that what Bacon often referred to as the 'raw' and 'offensive' truth of his work lies. The means by which this 'magic', this 'life', was attained came through the unique manner in which Bacon painted, through a combination of the plastic medium of paint with the raw and vital element of 'chance'. It derived from a suspension of the painter's will and an allowing of his painterly instincts - what Bacon described as the impulses of his own nervous system - to commune with this vital and external element of chance in the way in which the fall and flow of the paint landed on the canvas. Hopefully, and by no means always, through a combination of craft and happy circumstance, a resultant image would appear with the freshness, vitality and shock of reality. 'Painting' Bacon wrote in an introduction to the work of Mathew Smith in 1953, 'tends towards a complete interlocking of image and paint, so that the image is the paint and vice versa. Here the brushstroke creates the form and does not merely fill it in. Consequently every movement of the brush on the canvas alters the shape and implications of the image. That is why real painting is a mysterious and continuous struggle with chance - mysterious because the very substance of the paint, when used in this way, can make such a direct assault upon the nervous system; continuous because the medium is so fluid and subtle that every change that is made loses what is already there in the hope of making a fresh gain.' (Francis Bacon, 'Statement on Mathew Smith', Tate Gallery, 1953 cited in Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon, Anatomy of an Engima, London, 2008, p. 182)

For Bacon, painting was simply a means of making images 'off his nervous system' as accurately as he could. He talked of attempting to capture all the 'pulsations' of a person, their presence, movement, mannerisms, and even their 'emanations', but is was primarily only with the reality of appearance, with the 'brutality of fact' that he was concerned. The haunting existential power of his work that has shocked and offended so many, and is appreciated and admired by so many other viewers of his work, was Bacon often insisted, largely unintentional. David Sylvester, once pushed him on this point, asking, 'perhaps you'd tell me what you feel your painting is concerned with besides appearance?' Bacon replied, 'It's concerned with my kind of psyche, it's concerned with my kind of - I'm putting it in a very pleasant way - exhilarated despair.' (Francis Bacon cited in David Sylvester The Brutality of Fact... op cit, p.83)


Francis Bacon’s Man in Blue expected to fetch £6m


The Times, January 15, 2009


A portrait by Francis Bacon could fetch up to £6 million at auction, 38 years after selling for £31,500. Man in Blue VI is one of seven major paintings that Bacon produced in the spring of 1954 and has been held by the same owner since November 1971. It was painted while the artist was in the middle of a violent relationship with Peter Lacy, a former Spitfire pilot. Bacon left the cottage they shared and checked into a hotel, where he painted the Man in Blue series. It is thought that they were done from life, with the sitter being an unknown man whom Bacon had met at the hotel.

Man in Blue VI has been exhibited internationally and was included in the artist’s retrospective at the Tate Gallery in 1962. It will be sold at the PostWar and Contemporary Art auction at Christie’s in London on February 11.  




Francis Bacon's Man in Blue VI Leads Christie's Auction of Post-War and Contemporary Art


Art Daily, Thursday, January 15, 2009


LONDON.- Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale will take place on 11 February 2009 and will offer a comprehensive selection of 31 works of art representing the last 60 years. The auction is led by Man in Blue VI, an exceptional portrait by Francis Bacon (1909-1992) which is offered at auction for the first time having been in the same ownership for nearly 40 years (estimate: £4,000,000 to £6,000,000). The auction will offer a number of rare opportunities to collectors, as many of the works are offered at auction for the first time; two leading highlights include important paintings by Alberto Burri and Willem de Kooning which are presented to the market for the first time in more than 40 years. The sale is expected to realise in excess of £15 million.

Pilar Ordovás, International Director and Deputy Chairman of Post-War and Contemporary Art, Christie’s Europe: ‘This auction will offer a carefully curated selection of works by a number of the most established artists of the last 60 years including Francis Bacon, Mark Rothko, Jean Dubuffet, Willem de Kooning, Alberto Burri, Bridget Riley and Jeff Koons, among others. We continue to see strong demand for market-fresh works of the highest quality, and this auction will present a selection of important paintings which are offered for sale for the first time in a generation. The outstanding highlight of the sale is Francis Bacon’s 'Man in Blue VI’ which is the finest example from an important series of works painted during the mid-1950s, a golden period in the artist’s career. Bacon is recognised internationally as one of the most important and influential artists of the 20th Century and the appearance on the market of this important painting for this first time in nearly 40 years presents a rare opportunity for collectors around the world.’

Leading the sale is Man in Blue VI by Francis Bacon (1906-1992) (estimate: £4,000,000 to £6,000,000) which was acquired by the present owner in November 1971 and has been in their possession since. The finest of a series of seven major paintings that Bacon made in the spring of 1954, the present work dates to an intense, creative and much celebrated period in the artist’s career when he was in the midst of a tempestuous and violent romance with Peter Lacy, a veteran Spitfire pilot whom he described as the great love of his life. As Francis Bacon said of his relationship with Lacy, ‘Being in love in that extreme way - being totally, physically obsessed by someone - is like having some dreadful disease. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy’. In 1954, as a result of the violent and divisive nature of their mutually destructive relationship, Bacon had moved out of the cottage that he shared with Lacy and was staying at the Imperial Hotel in nearby Henley-upon-Thames. It was during the 1950s that Bacon gained international recognition; his portraits and paintings of Popes were exhibited at museums around Europe and the United States.

The seven paintings depicting Man in Blue are unusual in that Bacon appears to have painted the sitter from life, as opposed to using a photograph which was his usual method. The sitter is an unknown man who Bacon is thought to have met at the hotel in Henley. The work depicts an ordinary figure pulsating with life and apparent inner turmoil at the centre of a dark void. This form of depiction contrasts to that of the screaming agony of the heads and popes that the artist had been painting the previous year, and offers a more subtle representation of personal anxiety and torment. All but one of the series was exhibited at The Hanover Gallery, London in June 1954, and the present example was acquired by the present owner from another London gallery in 1971 and has been in their possession since. It has been exhibited internationally, and was included in the artist’s Retrospective at the Tate Gallery in 1962.




Bacon bought in 1971 to fetch £6m


Louise Jury, Chief Arts Correspondent

The Evening Standard, 14.01.09



A PAINTING by Francis Bacon bought for £31,500 nearly 40 years ago is returning to the market with an estimate of up to £6million.


The portrait, Man in Blue VI, was bought in 1971 and stayed in the same ownership until now.


It is from one of the most fruitful periods in Bacon's working life, and is now expected to be the top lot in next month's auction of post-war and contemporary art at Christie's.


Prices for Bacon have soared in recent years as he has come to be seen as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. Pilar Ordovás, an international director at Christie's, said: "This auction will present paintings which are offered for sale for the first time in a generation."


Man in Blue VI was painted in spring 1954 when Bacon was in a romance with Peter Lacy, a veteran Spitfire pilot. The sitter is an unknown man and seems to have been painted from life, even though the artist usually worked from photographs.


The sale, at King Street on 11 February, includes works by Jeff Koons, Willem de Kooning and a Mark Rothko with an estimate of £3.5million. They go on show in Old Brompton Road from 1 February.





  Desperately seeking Daddy


    Lewis Jones is fascinated and appalled by details of the demons that drove Francis Bacon


   The Daily Telegraph Saturday, December 20, 2008




                               In search of a cruel father: Francis Bacon


Michael Peppiatt knew Francis Bacon for nearly 30 years, and in 1997 published an authoritative biography, Anatomy of an Enigma. The 14 essays and interviews collected in Studies for a Portrait necessarily cover much of the same ground, but offer fresh perspectives.

In Bacon’s Eyes, for example, he publishes extracts from a discarded memoir he wrote as a Cambridge undergraduate, when he drank with Bacon in the bars and clubs of Soho. This is brave of him, as the passages selected are embarrassingly self-conscious and derivative – his publisher remarked that they would sound better in French. Still, they catch something of the artist: “Gargoyle face jutting out on nightairs, with a bone structure from a butcher’s. Under barlight, pinkchopped, the smooth skin glistening over the powerful mandibles.”

Bacon was all of a piece, and his talk – recorded here in interviews laid out in the reverential French style – could be as brilliantly perverse as his paintings. “I always think of friendship,” he said, “as where two people can really tear each other to bits.” Such friendships are a staple of his work.

In the essays, Peppiatt writes perceptively about Bacon’s endlessly contradictory nature, his generosity and cruelty, his violence and tenderness, his dandyism and love of squalor, his spectacular dissipation and iron self-discipline, and what he called his “exhilarated despair”. There is a contradiction, too, in the biographer’s approach to his subject. On the one hand, he accepts the artist’s assertion that his paintings are inexplicable, signifying nothing, while on the other he naturally does his best to explain their significance. He is excellent on Bacon’s literary influences, particularly Aeschylus and TS Eliot, and quotes some lines from The Family Reunion (where the two meet) which perfectly describe the paintings:

In and out, in an endless drift

Of shrieking forms in a circular desert

Weaving with contagion of putrescent


On dissolving bone.

His main source of explanation, though, is the painter’s life, particularly his tortured adolescence. Bacon’s sexual feelings were first aroused by his father, a brutal military man turned unsuccessful horse trainer, who may have had his asthmatic son horsewhipped by the stud farm grooms – a possible inspiration for all the primal screams of the paintings (“the moment of truth, where all pretence and deceit fall away”). In 1927, when Francis was 16, Captain Bacon expelled him from home when he discovered him trying on his mother’s underwear. The boy was entrusted to a suitably manly uncle, who took him from the wilds of County Kildare to Berlin and to his bed, then left him to fend for himself on the streets.

Peppiatt argues persuasively that Bacon spent the rest of his life in search of a “cruel father”, a quest dramatised in his obsessive depiction of demented authority figures, whether subfusc businessmen or empurpled popes (“the ultimate Papa”).

He recreated his Berlin experiences in London, amid the depravity of post-war Soho, where he helped create the Colony Room, a seedy drinking club (still standing, just) whose bilious green décor provides the background for some of his paintings. In his novel England, Half English, Colin MacInnes captures the atmosphere in the club, which he calls Mabel’s: “To sit in Mabel’s, with the curtains drawn at 4pm on a sunny afternoon, sipping expensive poison and gossiping one’s life away, has the futile fascination of forbidden fruit: the heady intoxication of a bogus Baudelairian evil.”

It was there that Bacon met Peter Lacy, his perfect “cruel father”, a former Spitfire pilot who drank three bottles of spirits a day and had an extensive collection of rhino whips, with which he belaboured the painter and his paintings. The couple spent time in Tangiers, where Bacon was repeatedly found wandering the streets at night in an appalling state. A concerned British consul alerted the chief of police, who reported, “Pardon, mais il n’y a rien à faire. Monsieur Bacon aime ça.”

Bacon painted his voluptuous abattoir visions – screaming monkey men, snarling cripples, twisted, hacked and smeared – with the exquisite skill that Van Gogh brought to his sunflowers. A few are lavishly reproduced in Studies for a Portrait. Most of his masterpieces are to be found in full coffee-table format in Peppiatt’s Francis Bacon in the 1950s, first published two years ago as the catalogue for an exhibition of the same name at the Sainsbury Centre at the University of East Anglia. 






El Estado asegura en 1.252 millones las obras de Bacon que irán al Prado


El Estado asegurará en un total de euros 86 obras que se mostrarán en la exposición que el Museo del Prado dedicará al pintor británico Francis Bacon entre febrero y abril del próximo año.


bacon-exposicion  Terra España, 19-12-2008

El Consejo de Ministros ha aprobado hoy para esta exposición el importe de la garantía pública estatal, un sistema a través del que el Estado asume el compromiso de asegurar las obras de relevante interés cultural que se presten para exposiciones celebradas en museos de titularidad estatal frente a la posible destrucción, pérdida, sustracción o daño que aquéllas puedan sufrir entre el acuerdo del préstamo y la devolución de la obra.

El otorgamiento no tiene, por tanto, un coste inmediato, sino un compromiso del Estado, como asegurador, para hacer frente a un pago si alguno de los bienes culturales resultase dañado, según explica el Gobierno.

El Museo del Prado tiene previsto inaugurar el próximo 3 de febrero Francis Bacon, una retrospectiva del pintor británico (1909-1992) que actualmente se muestra en la Tate Britain de Londres.

La exposición, que podrá visitarse en el Prado hasta el 19 de abril próximo, comprende obras que abarcan casi medio siglo de creación continua, una actividad que se vio interrumpida por el fatal ataque cardiaco que el artista sufrió en Madrid.

Para el director del Museo del Prado, Miguel Zugaza, 'es una gran oportunidad que esta exposición internacional, posiblemente la más importante que se va a hacer en décadas sobre Bacon, se pueda mostrar en Madrid y muy cerca de las colecciones que él visitó tanto'.

La muestra forma parte de la estrategia de la pinacoteca de abrirse a una relación con el mundo del arte más contemporáneo.

Según afirmó Zugaza hace un año al anunciar el proyecto de esta exposición, 'después de Picasso, Bacon es el más indicado' de ese período para visitar el Prado.


Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective


Huliq News, Thursday, December 18 2008


The first major New York exhibition in 20 years devoted to Francis Bacon (British, 1909–1992)—one of the most important painters of the 20th century—will be presented at The Metropolitan Museum of Art from May 20 through August 16, 2009. Marking the 100th anniversary of the artist's birth,

Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective will bring together the most significant works from each period of the artist's extraordinary career. Drawn from public and private collections around the world, this landmark exhibition will consist of some 70 paintings, complemented by never-before-seen works and archival material from the Francis Bacon Estate, which will shed new light on the artist's career and working practices. The Metropolitan Museum is the sole U.S. venue of the exhibition tour.

The exhibition is made possible in part by The Daniel and Estrellita Brodsky Foundation.

It was organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and Tate Britain, London, in partnership with the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

"Bacon is more compelling than ever: Despite the passage of time, his paintings remain fresh, urgent, and mysterious. Never before has this work been more relevant to young artists," noted Gary Tinterow, Engelhard Curator in Charge of the Metropolitan Museum's Department of Nineteenth-Century, Modern, and Contemporary Art. "For these reasons, we are very pleased to be able to present a retrospective spanning his entire career to our viewing public."

Entirely self-taught, Francis Bacon emerged in 1945 as a major force in postwar art. He rose to prominence over the subsequent 45 years, securing his reputation as one of the seminal artists of his generation. With a predilection for shocking imagery, Bacon's oeuvre was dominated by emotionally charged depictions of the human body that are among the most powerful images in the history of art.

The exhibition's loosely chronological structure will trace critical themes in Bacon's work and explore his philosophy about mankind and the modern condition with visually arresting examples. The earliest group of works, from the 1940s and '50s, focuses on the animalistic qualities of man, including: paintings of heads with snarling mouths (Head I, 1947–1948, The Metropolitan Museum of Art); images of men as pathetic and alone (Study for a Portrait, 1953, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Germany); and the human figure portrayed as base and bestial (Figures in a Landscape, 1956, Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery, England). The exhibition also features numerous versions of Bacon's iconic studies (1949–1953) after Diego Velazquez's Portrait of Innocent X (1650). Mortality is addressed directly in his last works (Triptych, 1991, The Museum of Modern Art, New York).

In the 1960s, working in his classic style of much looser, colorful, and expressive painting, Bacon showed the human body exposed and violated as in, for example, Lying Figure, 1969 (Foundation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel, Switzerland). In the following decade he increasingly used narrative, autobiography, and myth to mediate ideas about violence and emotion, as in the 1971 painting In Memory of George Dyer (Foundation Beyeler) and Triptych Inspired by the Orestia of Aeschylus, 1981 (Astrup Fearnley Collection, Oslo, Norway).

A number of important works by Bacon will only be presented at the Metropolitan Museum, including Study for Portrait I, 1953 (Denise and Andrew Saul); Painting, 1946 (The Museum of Modern Art, New York); and Self Portrait, 1973 (private collection, courtesy Richard Nagy, London).

Central to an understanding of the artist's working methods are the large caches of archival materials that have only become available since Bacon's death, especially the contents of the artist's famously cluttered London studio. A rich selection of 75 items from the artist's studio, his estate, and other archives will be included in the exhibition. The objects include pages the artist tore from books and magazines, photographs, and sketches—all of which are source materials for the finished paintings on view in the exhibition.

Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective is organized by Matthew Gale, Head of Displays, Tate Modern, Chris Stephens, Head of Displays, Tate Britain, and Gary Tinterow. The presentation of the exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum is organized by Gary Tinterow and Anne L. Strauss, Associate Curator, assisted by Ian Alteveer, Research Associate, all in the Department of Nineteenth-Century, Modern, and Contemporary Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with essays by Martin Harrison, David Mellor, Simon Ofield, Rachel Tant, Gary Tinterow, and Victoria Walsh. The catalogue is published by Tate Publishing and will be available in the Museum's book shops.

The Metropolitan Museum will offer an array of education programs in conjunction with Francis Bacon, including a symposium; gallery talks; documentary films on the artist; and (on request) verbal imaging tours for people with visual impairments.




Soho's bohemian Colony Room Club faces extinction 

The Colony Room Club, London's fabled drinking den beloved of artists from Francis Bacon to Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst, is set to close in Soho. 


By Neil Tweedie, The Daily Telegraph, 15 December 2008




                                          Muriel Belcher with Francis Bacon


THE denizens of the Colony Room Club should have been gathering last night for a joyous, or at least well lubricated, occasion. London's fabled drinking den celebrated its diamond jubilee yesterday – 60 years of uninterrupted, heroic carousing.

If one place still captures the seedy glamour of post-war Soho it is the Colony, hidden up a dark flight of stairs on Soho's Dean Street. The peep shows may have been overtaken by trendy, overpriced bars, but the one-room dive remains, a bohemian reproach to modern, money-driven conformity. That, at least, is how its membership – once a roll call of the great and the bad in British art and which still includes the likes of Emin and Hirst (who once served naked behind the bar) – like to see it.

Vodkas all around, then. Except that this week could be the last in the club's history. The Colony is facing extinction at the hands of the man into whose care it was entrusted.

Such is the uncertainty over the club's future that it was unclear last night if any celebration would be permitted. Its fate has for months now been the subject of mistrust and rancour. Will the Colony survive? And should it be missed?

A brief history: it was in December 1948 that Muriel Belcher, a combative, foul-mouthed but enterprising lesbian, opened the Soho establishment as an intended meeting place for writers, painters and amusing hard drinkers. The room – it is a small place – was initially decorated in 'colonial' bamboo and leopard skin, in deference to Muriel's Jamaican squeeze, Carmel.

Thus began six decades of bad behaviour, involving some of the best names in the business. Dylan Thomas threw up there, Tom Driberg propositioned there and Jeffrey Bernard advanced towards literal leglessness in its smoky confines, decorated in industrial green from the Fifties onwards.

Painters in particular liked it, including Bacon (a lifelong regular who as a young man was paid by Muriel to bring in interesting types), Freud and the doomed John Milton. Bacon described it as: "A place to go where one feels free and easy."

Under the stewardship of Belcher and that of her protégé Ian Board (equally foul-mouthed and possessed of an enormous nose swollen and purpled by brandy), the Colony grew into and remained an institution. Its eclectic membership was bonded by a supposed capacity for dazzling wit and a definite capacity for enormous amounts of alcohol. Customers at its little bar wallowed in the agreeable air of seediness, their imbibing overlooked by sometimes fine works of art donated by the insolvent artists in settlement of bar bills.

Muriel, who liked to call her members "cunty", was mistress of the put-down, while Board punished the unwary with sudden, violent eruptions of invective. All forms of human frailty were indulged in the Colony, except one: dullness.

Following Board's death in 1994, the club was taken over by Michael Wojas, who had worked under Board. Things continued as before, but the club inevitably lost some of its lustre as its greatest characters drank themselves one by one to death.

The problems started a few years ago when the club's finances began to fall into disrepair. Accounts were not properly prepared and tax and rent went unpaid. The club is housed on the first floor of a Georgian house and its lease was secure, so long as the rent was paid. With a membership of 200-plus paying annual fees of £150 and expensive bar prices, the club should have been able to pay the £12,500 rent easily. But earlier this year, Wojas, citing financial pressures, announced he would not be renewing the lease and the club would have to close. He auctioned off some of the better artworks, which he claimed were his by virtue of Board's will. The sale raised £40,000.

His announcement sparked a rebellion among members who claimed he had no right to close a club which belonged not to him but to them. They succeeded in freezing the proceeds of the auction and securing a High Court ruling in favour of a formal meeting. Last week, a new governing committee was elected amid acrimonious exchanges between the pro and anti Wojas factions. The new body believes it can renegotiate the lease, secure a listing for the club from English Heritage and ensure its future. Wojas, though, still holds the keys to the bar.

Speaking yesterday, Michael Beckett, chairman of the committee, said: "It still is a great place; all the members love it.

"It's the last bit of old Soho. I always meet interesting people when I go in there. Everyone speaks to each other – it's not some dull pub. It's homely – it's a front room rather than a bar."

There will be those who argue that, like empires, clubs rise and fall. That, over time, what was once fresh and genuine becomes hackneyed and artificial, the hollow replaying of bygone glories.

Critics of the Colony would argue that nowadays there are rather more art students than great artists among its members; more aspiring bohemians and hell-raisers than real ones. But its members love it and that should be reason enough for its survival.

What would the formidable Muriel says about it all? There would be a few colourful phrases in there, for certain.



No buyers for Bacon at major Paris art auction


AFP  11 December 2008

PARIS (AFP) — Francis Bacon's Two Figures failed to find a buyer when it went under the hammer at the first major auction of contemporary art in Paris since the global financial crisis erupted.


The 1961 oil-and-sand painting by the late Irish-born English painter - depicting two naked, contorted bodies - had been valued at five million to seven million euros (6.68 million to 9.36 million dollars) by Sotheby's.


Featured at several Bacon exhibitions, most recently at the Palazzo Reale in Milan earlier this year, it was regarded by art experts as the top lot at the two-day auction that ended Thursday.


Overall, the auction - with an estimated 12 million to 17 million euros worth of art - raked in only 6.2 million euros, Sotheby's said, reflecting a softening in the global art market.


Bacon - the subject of an ongoing major retrospective at the Tate Britain in London - set a Paris record in 2007 when Sotheby's sold another of his works for 13.7 million euros. 






True-Crime Temptresses, Bacon’s Rubbish Fill Holiday Art Books


Review by Martin Gayford, Bloomberg, December 11, 2008


Dec. 11 (Bloomberg) - Ripped photographs and newspaper clippings spattered with paint: This isn’t what you expect in one of the year’s most intriguing art books.

Francis Bacon: Incunabula by Martin Harrison and Rebecca Daniels (Thames & Hudson, 224 pages, $75, 39.95 pounds) is devoted to sweepings from the floor of the world’s most expensive contemporary artist at auction.

Bacon often remarked that he drew his inspiration from an atmosphere of chaos. After his death in 1992, his London studio and its contents were moved to Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, where they were sifted and studied like the detritus of an Egyptian tomb. This book presents some of the results.

Though these photos, clips and book illustrations were the raw material of Bacon’s art, you can’t help wondering how accidental those markings really are. Perhaps some of these altered images count as artworks themselves. 





Фотография мертвого Фрэнсиса Бэкона стала частью коллажа


Британская фотохудожница Катерина Шекспир Лэйн для создания своего триптиха «Дань уважения Фрэнсису Бэкону» использовала фотографию мертвого художника.


СЕГОДНЯ, Ukraine, 9 December 2008



Фрагмент работыКатерины Шекспир Лэйн


В центре триптиха помещена перевернутая фотография тела английского художника-экспрессиониста Фрэнсиса Бэкона, сделанная в испанском морге через несколько часов после его смерти. Тело лежит на каталке, помещенное в прозрачный пластиковый пакет. Это изображение обрамляют различные фотографии внутренностей.

На двух оставшихся частях триптиха помещен Сальвадор Дали, стоящий у распятия. При этом изображение центральной части вызывает ассоциации с известной картиной Дали «Христос святого Хуана де ля Круус».

Свой коллаж Катерины Лэйн, лично знавшая Бэкона, объясняет отношением самого художника к смерти. По ее утверждению, художник заявлял: «Все мы потенциальные трупы. Когда я захожу к мяснику, мне всегда удивительно представить на прилавке себя, а не животных».

По одному из свидетельств, Фрэнсис Бэкон также говорил о желании, чтобы его тело после смерти положили в пластиковый пакет и выбросили в придорожную канаву.

Триптих будет экспонироваться в одном из лондонских баров в Сохо.

Британский художник Фрэнсис Бэкон умер в Мадриде в 1992 году от сердечного приступа.


The first dark image of Bacon's death


The Observer, Sunday December 7 2008



  A detail from Catherine Shakespeare' Lane's Francis Bacon Homage Triptych work. Photograph: Catherine Shakespeare Lane 


 It was a suitably macabre request from one of Britain's greatest and darkest 20th-century painters. 'When I'm dead, put me in a plastic bag and throw me in the gutter,'  Francis Bacon told the barman at the infamous Soho drinking club, the Colony Room Club.

Sixteen years after the colourful artist's death, one of Bacon's circle of friends has gone a long way to try to make his wish come true. A photograph taken in a Spanish morgue hours after his death and never seen before in public reveals that the artist had been placed in a transparent body bag. The shocking image now forms the centrepiece of a new work of art created by Bacon's friend, the photographer Catherine Shakespeare Lane. 


The photograph is mounted on a background of offal and framed by two images of Salvador Dalí standing by a crucifix. The bleakly humorous tribute to Bacon and to the Spanish surrealist Dalí will go on display for the first time this week at the famous London watering hole in London's Dean Street, which is under threat of closing down. 

Lane believes her triptych is an appropriate homage to her late friend. Bacon, she points out, once famously said: 'We are potential carcasses. If I go into a butcher's shop I always think it's surprising that I wasn't there instead of the animal.' 


A lifetime honorary member of the club, Lane hopes the hanging of the image will serve as a fitting farewell to both the great painter and to a venue which, since the Sixties, has been the haunt of many of the leading creative names in the country, including Lucien Freud, Dylan Thomas, the actors Peter O'Toole and John Hurt and the writer Jeffrey Barnard. 


'I'm very sad that if the club closes at the end of the month,' said Lane. 'I sincerely hope it does not die and can survive.'


A last minute High Court order obtained by the so-called Shadow Committee of club members preventing its closure before an annual general meeting could yet save the day. 


In recent years controversial leading artists such as Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas and Sam Taylor Wood have all been habitues of the club, with the model Kate Moss even tending the bar one evening. The singer Lisa Stansfield and the film distributor Hamish McAlpine are also regulars and have both tried to save the club by paying off some of its debts.


Lane defends the treatment of Bacon's dead body as in keeping with the way that the artist saw the world. 'People always think of Francis as gloomy and tortured because that is what they see in his work,' said Lane. 'But he got all that out in his painting and when he was out with us it was not like that. He was out to play.'



No bed for Francis Bacon


Discipline and chaos, suffering and human meat, as seen in the works of an unusually articulate artist


Alan Jenkins, The Times Literary Supplement, December 3, 2008


When Francis Bacon said “The only really interesting thing is what happens between two people in a room”, he did not mean what happens between an artist and his model – or if so, only indirectly. Bacon’s portraits of himself, his friends and (male) lovers are among the most enthusiastically acclaimed of all his pictures, but they were done almost without exception from photographs and memory, not from life. From a handful of paintings, early and late, it is clear that for Bacon some of the most interesting things happened before, during or after copulation – “or buggery, however you want to put it”, as he himself put it in the late 1960s, with an insouciance that could have been dangerous at any time before then.

Yet, as John Russell pointed out nearly thirty years ago, “perhaps the most persistent of Bacon’s preoccupations is the problem of what a man is to do when he is alone in a room”, and with only a very few exceptions, his pictures until the later 1960s more often than not featured single figures: human males, animals, especially apes, heads or heads-and-shoulders, isolated in indeterminate spaces, framed or confined in a kind of geometric canopy or glass box, seen through strips of (shower?) curtain, paint cascading down the interiors or, in the few landscapes, deft strokes rendering wild grasses with Oriental precision. True, it is not always clear from its posture and mass whether the pictured form is human or ape; nor if in fact there is more than one of them pictured. Bacon would sometimes, to achieve the desired “thickness”, model his single figure on a sequence of photographs from Eadweard Muybridge’s The Human Body in Motion that showed two men wrestling – though at a glance, they could be having sex. (“I very often think of people’s bodies that I’ve known, the contours of those bodies that have particularly affected me, but then they’re grafted on to Muybridge bodies”, Bacon explained.) Then, once he had begun to show two or more people, the coupling – as in those earlier exceptions – becomes explicit.

And, in his later vision, coupling is murder. In panel after panel of the large-scale triptychs which were Bacon’s preferred format from the 1960s on, the human carcass – mangled, butchered and bloodied, studded with entry- and exit-wounds, spilling muscle tissue and entrails, or intact but warped into terrible knots of tension, straining in climax or death agony – is pinioned on carpets or sprawled on stained mattress-ticking, like a police photograph at the scene of a sex crime. And indeed other panels actually show spectators or recorders – one holds a cinecamera – of the main event, be it coupling or crucifixion, which has left its protagonist eviscerated.

Bacon disavowed any moral or philosophical intention behind these images of human suffering and detachment, and still more emphatically denied trying to make a historical point – notwithstanding his brief flirtation with the idea of publishing a pictorial “History of Europe in [his] lifetime” (he was born in 1909). One of the most articulate of painters, with a strong sense both for drama and self-presentation, from the moment he became a succès de scandale Bacon was a tireless subject of interviews (with Russell and David Sylvester, preeminently): occasions he seized to rehearse a repertoire of anecdotes and apophthegms, some haughty and whimsical, some purposefully discomfiting in their frankness, but almost all prompted by the contradictory urges to elevate his calling to a higher mystery or deflate its pretensions with a rude reminder of fleshly limitation.

In this he was both disingenuous and provocative, refusing, for example, to allow in his own crucifixions the significance granted to the image by the entire Western tradition – it was an example of human behaviour, no more and no less. Behaviour, furthermore, that aroused in Bacon a sense of his own wounded or tortured nature: a crucifixion, he said, was almost a self-portrait. Almost from the beginning – in Painting, 1946, now too fragile to have made the trip from MoMA to the current exhibition at Tate Britain – the painter evinced a fascination with sides of meat, a motif that recurs in his later crucifixions and couplings. When asked about its preponderance in his imagination he was ready with a dual response. “Every time I go into a butcher’s”, he said, “I’m surprised that it’s not me hanging there”; yet the meat was simultaneously a purely aesthetic stimulus, its colours “absolutely beautiful”. Questioned about his more Grand Guignol scenes he would shrug, affect complete ignorance of their import, personal or otherwise, and insist on his overriding desire to make “beautiful paintings”.

From the very small number of canvases that survived Bacon’s apprentice years it is far from obvious that this was his ambition when he started (if it was, his idea of beauty was as convulsive as any Surrealist’s). The big, bold canvases in the grand manner of his gilded middle age, exposing lavish, ritualistic cruelties, are indeed very beautiful, and only a handful of pictures on show here, from the later 1950s, seem unsure in technique or faltering in composition. In the room titled “Crucifixion” (the Tate’s hang is a compromise between a chronological and a thematic arrangement), the body, whatever else it is being subjected to, mostly retains recognizable limbs and a torso. Not so in the first room, “Animal”, where a distended eye, mouth, teeth and phallic appendages dominate: to these organs of appetite and aggression, in some of Bacon’s early works, the human and the nightmarishly non-human alike are reduced. Assisted by Bacon himself, commentators have established an impeccably modern pedigree for these seemingly sui generis images: in Picasso’s “biomorphic” beach scenes, 1930s photojournalism and the films of Sergei Eisenstein and Luis Buñuel. (Lessons in form and handling were learnt from Graham Sutherland and the Australian Roy de Maistre, too, though Bacon was less prompt to acknowledge them in later years.) In her catalogue essay Victoria Walsh cites Foundations of Modern Art by Amédée Ozenfant (1931) as having perhaps fertilized the insatiably curious young painter’s imagination in ways that would lie dormant for years: “The search for intensity dominates the whole of modern painting. There can be no intensity without simplification, and to some degree, no intensity without distortion . . . of what is seen naturally”.

In 1931, Bacon was twenty-two, had made his way as, more or less, a rent boy in Weimar Berlin, had learnt French living in Chantilly and was working in London as an interior decorator and designer of Bauhaus-derived furniture for clients who included the editor of Vogue and the novelist Patrick White. But almost as soon as he began to paint in earnest (in oil on canvas, from which he rarely deviated for forty-odd years), the beauty was there as well, and was there till the end, in paintings that proclaim him one of the great colourists of the last century: from the startling orange ground against which the first three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944) writhe and shriek, to the sumptuous deep reds of its grander, more imposing and artistically pointless second version (1988). Orange flames out at us again from the Figure Studies, 1945–6, while Figure Study II is the work in which another of Bacon’s motifs – or obsessions – unequivocally makes an entrance: the gaping mouth, open in a scream of terror, a snarl of hatred or a howl of impotent rage. Indelibly fixed in Bacon’s imaginary by Picture Post shots of Goebbels and Mussolini haranguing the crowds, Poussin’s Massacre of the Innocents and the nurse’s silent scream in The Battleship Potemkin, in Figure Study II, where it is appended to a crouched or kneeling half-clothed form, the mouth powerfully subverts those reliable signifiers of bourgeois respectability, umbrella, herringbone tweed and potted plants.

In the late 1940s (with a series of Heads) and the early 50s (Study for Nude, 1951; Study of a Figure in a Landscape and Study for Crouching Nude, both 1952) Bacon’s pictures posit an extra-historical continuity between the human at its noblest, as in Michelangelo’s drawings and sculpture, and the simian – almost to the point of conflating them. Head VI (1949), though, returns us, whatever Bacon thought or said, to the human in historical time, combining the motifs of toothed, gaping mouth and wildly staring eye with the vestments of a little brief authority: the highest authority on earth, indeed, for many, though in Bacon the vestments are imperial purple rather than rich pontifical red, as in his master-image, the Portrait of Pope Innocent X by Velázquez. Bacon’s remarkable travesty inaugurated a new series of studies “after” the great original, though his fixation was inspired, in fact, by a reproduction. (Even when he visited Rome, Bacon avoided seeing the Velázquez in the Doria Pamphilj, a diffidence in which embarrassment perhaps played a part. Much later he dismissed most of his repeated assaults on it as “silly”, and it is hard to disagree, despite or because of the presence in the current Tate show of two of his strongest and least familiar Popes, as well as Head VI: one, once thought lost, from 1950, the other from 1965 – this last looking as if he has been shot in the head at close range, or as if the rage or terror that animated his predecessors had finally exploded his face from within.)

That so many of Bacon’s motifs derived, in complex, vigilant ways from photography and film is entirely consistent with his acute awareness that these new art forms had rendered representation in painting obsolete, and with his horror of mere “illustration”. This was not to say that painting should not deal in “fact”: just that fact comprehended more than what is “seen naturally”. “One wants a thing to be as factual as possible and at the same time as deeply suggestive or deeply unlocking of areas of sensation other than simple illustration of the object”, as Bacon put it to David Sylvester. He was also one of the most literary of painters, an admirer of Ulysses, an avid reader of poetry and drama who saw that the Oresteia and T. S. Eliot’s Sweeney Agonistes were blood relations, who liked to quote lines from both yet who repeatedly and sometimes fiercely repudiated attempts to read “a story” into his own work.

But he insisted too much. At one level, his habit of working in triptychs, and at a deeper one the suggestiveness he often in fact achieved, not just in triptychs but in single paintings, militates against that very insistence. It is hard to look at such works as the Crucifixions of 1962 and 65, Lying Figure (1969), Triptych, Studies from the Human Body (1970) or Triptych March 1974 without a sense of prelude, climax and aftermath – though not necessarily in that order. Some such adumbrated narrative, an intimate human drama about to be embarked on, concluded or aborted also haunts the restrained and very beautiful portrait studies of a suited Man in Blue, his face and hands bright-lit on a deep blue ground, that are at once the most “readable” of all Bacon’s male figures, and the most ambiguous.

What is common to all these images, early, late and middle, is the overwhelming presence or threat (or promise) of violence. Bacon’s obsession with the figure drove him repeatedly to disfigure it – to all but dismantle the heads and bodies he painted on his canvases, and destroy the canvases themselves, when he judged them to be failures. Working from photographs, so the artist said, enabled him to do the necessary violence to his subjects – the better to “distort them into appearance”; and that could not happen if the subject was actually present. (This showed an untypical délicatesse. Bacon’s definition of friendship was two people “pulling each other apart”, and in sex his pursuit of the roughest of rough trade bordered on the suicidal.) But he also spoke repeatedly of his desire to make paintings that would “return [the viewer] more violently to life”, by which he meant, as I understand it, shock that viewer out of habitual or self-protective ignorance and into awareness of his own physical reality. “An attempt to bring the figurative thing up onto the nervous system more violently and poignantly” was how he described his own work. “There is an area of the nervous system”, Bacon believed, “to which the texture of [oil] paint communicates more violently than anything else.”

Paintings (some paintings anyway) could mysteriously “unlock the valves of sensation” or of “intuition and perception about the human situation”; could, by seemingly subliminal means, evoke a memory trace of raw, unmediated existence. Somewhere behind this lay Baudelaire and Proust, with their different ideas of involuntary memory. But for Bacon (who also liked to cite Paul Valéry: “modern man wants the sensation without the boredom of its conveyance”), to unlock the valves of his own subconscious was to bring up onto the canvas and “onto the [viewer’s] nervous system” an apprehension of life or “being-aliveness” as violent, primordial struggle, redeemed only by an instinctive grace, or a stroke of luck.

For Bacon, a chronic asthmatic, the struggle began early: it was the struggle for breath itself. The second son of a bad-tempered military man-turned-horse breeder and the heiress to a Sheffield steel fortune, he was brought up in Ireland and England in a succession of big houses where the omnipresence of dogs and horses was a perpetual challenge to his well-documented will to live. Bacon senior made no secret of his disappointment in his sickly, sensitive son, whose party piece was to appear at family gatherings in full drag. Michael Peppiatt is one among many writers on Bacon to make the connection, in his absorbing biography Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an enigma (1995, now revised, updated and reissued by Constable in paperback), between the father’s screaming rages, the child’s gasping for air and the importance of the gaping mouth in the work of the mature artist. The killings and house-burnings of the Irish uprising and Civil War (“Violence upon the roads; violence of horses”, in Yeats’s words) formed the backdrop to Bacon’s childhood, further enlivened by the attentions of the grooms who were encouraged to take horsewhips to the young master to punish him for the attentions he was over-fond of paying them.

Three of his four siblings died premature deaths, but Francis would enjoy long life, vigorous appetites and legendary resilience, physical and psychological. Ejected from the family at sixteen, he soon discovered the resourcefulness and the hunger for risk that would sustain him both as a homosexual adventurer and a painter, along with his preferred modus vivendi: to lurch between opulence and squalor, between a punishing creative routine and an equally punitive, if delighted (and delightful), dissipation. In later life the prices commanded by his paintings made him rich, but he had established his careless mastery over money much earlier, in the casinos of Berlin and Monte Carlo. The centrality to both gambling and painting of chance, risk, instinct – in painting Bacon subsumed these under what he called “accident”, the way one mark might suggest another, or perhaps an entirely new image, without the apparent intervention of the will or conscious direction – made them more than analogous: they were two sides of the same life force, the same compulsion to live at the maximum pitch of intensity, for the same high stakes and correspondingly high rewards.

In some sense all Bacon’s paintings represent another throw of the dice, a record not of how he “saw the world” but of the only way he, human meat and a carcass-in-waiting as he was, could yet feel himself to be truly alive. Peppiatt, Sylvester and other witnesses have made clear that this life-and-death struggle issued as often as not in despair and self-disgust; but of course for the artist there was no choice. The paradox – and it strikes with greater force in the final two large rooms of the Tate exhibition, showing works from the last fifteen years of Bacon’s very productive life – is that intensity itself could become a habit; that so many of these later works look as mannered and fussy, in their beautiful, wearyingly nasty way, as anything from the Academic schools of the nineteenth century, in theirs.

The great exceptions are the paintings shown here in a room titled “Memorial”. Bacon’s companion, George Dyer, committed suicide in their hotel room on the eve of the artist’s retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1971; three extraordinary triptychs from 1971–3 recall Dyer’s living presence, and imagine his last hours, with monumental and moving factuality. Bacon often remarked on the “awfulness” of his personal life – another of his lovers, Peter Lacey, had steadily drunk himself to death in the 1950s – and while no one would wish he had known more unhappiness of this kind, we can regret that he did not always achieve, or desire, the direct appeal to human emotion these pictures make, while surrendering nothing of painterly value: they have a stunning aura in which grandeur, indignity and grief are all present, and inseparable.

As with Eliot in poetry, Bacon’s art sinks deep roots into the whole psycho-physical life and attempts a reinvention of tradition (“the figurative thing”), rather than the Freud-sponsored violation of the natural order to which Surrealism aspired. To that extent, the confusion of the Times reviewer, faced with Bacon’s very first solo show in 1934, was understandable: “The difficulty . . . is to know how far his paintings and drawings . . . may be regarded as artistic expression and how far as the mere unloading on canvas and paper of what used to be called the subconscious mind”. (Cited in “Bacon and his Critics”, by Gary Tinterow, in the Tate catalogue.) Mere! We like to think we have come a long way since then, but Bacon and the best of his commentators are part of the long way we have come. The catalogue contains a useful chronology, but none of its seven essayists adds substantially to what has already been written by Russell, Lawrence Gowing, Michel Leiris and Gilles Deleuze. Michael Peppiatt’s new book, Francis Bacon: Studies for a portrait, contains interviews with and recollections of the artist from the 1960s almost until his death: that is, either the raw materials of Peppiatt’s biography or bits of the biography distilled into essays and articles. For completists only, it does include the full, fascinating text of Bacon’s answers when he was interviewed for the first time by his future biographer, in 1963, before celebrity began to overtake some of his responses.

Much recent scholarly interest in Bacon has focused on the “drawings” controversy: whether the many preparatory sketches and studies found in the artist’s studio and elsewhere after his death – studies which, while he was alive, he insisted he never produced – could be genuine. (It seems pretty obvious that some are, and some aren’t.) A room at the Tate (“Archive”) is devoted to some genuine-looking sketches, over-painted photographs and “doctored” images, while Francis Bacon: Incunabula by Martin Harrison and Rebecca Daniels is a spellbinding pictorial record of the most significant of Bacon’s visual sources. The entire fantastic compost of rags, paints, brushes, magazines, torn-out pages and tattered reproductions laid down over decades in Bacon’s South Kensington mews has been reconstructed entire at the Dublin City Gallery, the Hugh Lane. While the artist’s living space was almost monastic in its austerity, his workroom was a materialization of the rich, sedimented strangeness of his inner world. To him, both discipline and chaos seem to have been indispensable.

(Tate Britain, until January 4, 2009)

Matthew Gale and Chris Stephens, editors
288pp. Tate Publishing. £24.99.
978 1 85437 738 8

Michael Peppiatt
Studies for a portrait
272pp. Yale University Press. £18.99 (US $35).
978 0 300 14255 6

Martin Harrison and Rebecca Daniels
256pp. Thames and Hudson. £39.95 (US $75).

978 0 500 09343 3

Alan Jenkins is Deputy Editor of the TLS. Drunken Boats, his translation of Arthur Rimbaud’s Le Bateau ivre, was published last year.




Bacon's theatre of the absurd


On Francis Bacon at the Tate Britain, London.


By David Yezzi, The New Criterion, December 2008


High-priced meat-under-glass has been a staple of British art for the better part of a century, long before Damien Hirst’s fashionable sharks and calves appeared on the scene. Witness the current career retrospective of paintings by Francis Bacon (surely the ultimate nom de charcuterie), timed in accordance with the artist’s centenary in 2009. [1] Bacon’s take on the human condition was simple: “We are meat,” he liked to say. His paintings of sixty years, from Crucifixion (1933) to Triptych (1991) in the Tate show, rarely stray off message, recapitulating his dark matter in image after traumatic image. (From the mid-1960s on, Bacon displayed most of his sanguinary subjects behind glass, placed in gilded frames.) It is worth noting that the exhibition originates at Tate Britain, not at Tate Modern, as I initially assumed—a far better venue for staking Bacon’s claim as the greatest British painter since Turner (and, in the eyes of many, as one Tate press release has it, Britain’s greatest painter period!). But Bacon’s ubiquity and collectability, abetted by his famously theatrical subjects and bravura technique, mainly confirm his star status, not his mastery.

Certainly, anyone possessed of a glancing acquaintance with modern art knows what a Bacon looks like: arrays of distended viscera, steaming sides of beef, screaming Popes in “space-frames,” crucifixions, menacing dogs, swirled faces, contorted nudes decomposing on divans, Muybridge-esque figures recast in blurs of paint. Brutal, bloody stuff. It’s also attention-grabbing stuff, both pictorially and commercially. Even those who couldn’t give a fig for art will have noticed Bacon’s recent record-breaking outing in the marketplace: Triptych (1976) sold in May at Sotheby’s for over $86 million, the highest price ever paid at auction for a contemporary art work. Last month, Study for Self-Portrait (1964), estimated at $40 million, sat on the block at Christie’s without a bid, but one assumes this was due more to our economy’s recent resemblance to a Bacon painting than to any decline in Bacon’s blue-chip stock.

Only Bacon’s friend Lucian Freud, among the London School painters, comes close to rivaling his celebrity and mystique. Bacon worried that his biography would over-weight viewers’ interpretations of his work, and not without reason; his was a colorful life tinged with tragedy. One needn’t scratch the surface very deeply before biographical details emerge, particularly in the portraits and late paintings. Bacon’s reputed drinking, gambling, and masochism (he fled one severe beating clothed only in fishnet stockings) fueled his image as a peintre maudit. His greatest subject was ultimately Francis Bacon.

A darling of the bohemian intelligentsia, Bacon spent his bad-boy early years in London commuting “between the gutter and the Ritz” (as he put it): dodging rents, committing petty crimes, and living off of patrons and friends. He took pride in the fact that he never received formal training as a painter. Born in Ireland to English parents, he fled a violent homelife in which his horse-trainer father oversaw regular whippings of his son by the grooms. In 1927, Bacon traveled to Germany with Cecil Harcourt-Smith, a family friend (with whom he wound up in bed). He found Berlin in the Twenties much as Auden described it at that time—“a bugger’s daydream.” It was seeing Picasso’s work in Paris, where he traveled after Berlin, that set him on the road to becoming a painter.

Bacon’s earliest painting in the Tate exhibition is his spindly, Picasso-inflected Crucifixion (1933). Crucifixions became a signature motif for the artist. Among his most well-known images are Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944), his first major triptych, and Painting (1946), a splayed cow carcass and bloody-mouthed figure arranged as an abattoir-altarpiece, which Alfred Barr acquired for the Museum of Modern Art. Bacon followed these with a series of Popes, beginning with Head VI (1949) and culminating in the streaked and gilded bombast of Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1953). The Popes were one of a number of motifs Bacon would come back to later in his career with diminishing returns. (Bacon was extremely self-critical and destroyed a great deal of work, but by the time he came to repent the Popes presumably it was too late to get his hands on them.)

Bacon often equivocated when asked questions about his influences and the significance of his work, but certain things were repeated often enough to be believed: 1) that he was an Nietzschean atheist, 2) that Picasso had meant a great deal to him, 3) that he intended no religious meaning with his crosses and Popes, and 4) that his greatest guiding principle as a painter was the Surrealist notion of chance. According to Michael Peppiatt in his recently updated biography, [2] what Bacon most wanted was to “excite” himself, to stir emotion ruthlessly, to “remove veils” from experience, to provide direct access to the valves of feeling. His means: bloody mouths, bones, flesh, screaming heads. Peppiatt once claimed, in the September 1984 issue of Connoisseur, that “even his detractors would agree that there is nothing of the easy chair about the work of Francis Bacon. Far from ease, it offers extreme disquiet.” I can’t say that I’m convinced. A kind of bathos dogs Bacon’s work, arising from the fact that his disquiet is, so to speak, always in an “easy chair,” swathed in gorgeous magenta and crimson and served up with a Sargent-like facility of the brush.

Bacon’s seductive paint handling is the first thing that viewers notice after the carnage. His methods of applying paint were as idiosyncratic as they were versatile. Hugh Davies and Sally Yard describe his everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach, in which his materials ranged from

Brillo pads to cashmere sweaters, as brushes are joined by rags, cotton wool, sponges, scrub brushes, garbage-can lids, paint-tube caps, the artist’s hands, and whatever else he can find in the studio for the application and shaping of painterly passages… . Thick impasto coexists with thinned washes of pigment and raw canvas, sand and dust are occasionally used to give texture to the paint. A few works of the 1980s are veiled in the haze produced by applying paint with an aerosol spray.

Reviewing Bacon’s show at the Malborough-Gerson gallery in 1968, Hilton Kramer found him “one of the most dazzling pictorial technicians on the current scene.” Why, then, he asks, does the work “strike me as being clever rather than profound—brilliant rather than authentic?” Kramer ends with a recognition of “exactly how safe an artist Mr. Bacon really is.”


Safe and also stagey. Bacon’s characteristic space is theatrical, suggesting operating theaters, thrust stages, wrestling rings, circus rings, bull rings, throne rooms, closets, altars—all playing areas in Bacon’s theater of the absurd. Beckett is a name that tends to come up when considering Bacon’s vision, but it’s closer to Genet (whose plays he recommended to friends). Think of the bishop in Le Balcon, who is in fact a man in costume acting out a ritualistic sexual fantasy in a brothel that the madame calls a “house of illusions.” In the critic Martin Esslin’s description, absurdist theater portrays “a world that functions mysteriously outside our conscious control… . It no longer has religious or historical purpose; it has ceased to make sense.” This is Bacon’s world, in which the artist rejects both narrative and didactic purpose and attempts to confront, in Esslin’s phrase, “the spectator with the harsh facts of a cruel world and his own isolation.”


This sense of chance and of confrontation is a key element of Bacon’s most touted images, such as Painting (1946), with its absurdist illogic and raw imagery. Yet the “safety” that Kramer perceived in the late Sixties already exists here in the picture’s pink and mauve symmetrical background. Bacon’s paint handling is so delicious, it’s like a mountain of crème Chantilly—far from horrified by it, you want to eat it with a spoon. Bacon is continually betrayed by his beginnings as an interior designer, no where more so in Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion. As Peppiatt notes of the background colour of Studies, “It is worth recalling that cadmium orange, which had become the fashionable colour in avant-garde interior design in the 1930s, remained Bacon’s favourite colour.” Bacon’s fashion colours and mod furniture come off as frivolously elegant.


Frivolity is, of course, the last thing most people associate with Bacon’s work. As Bacon’s Soho crony and (unauthorized) biographer Daniel Farson writes: “To appreciate Bacon’s work, it helps to see him as a deeply moral artist.” This strikes me as exactly what Bacon is not, so much so that I wonder if Farson could really believe it himself. Elsewhere he says that Bacon repeatedly told him that he believed in “nothing.” John Richardson, the biographer of Picasso, repeats the error: “By holding a mirror up to our degenerate times Bacon proves himself to be one of the most moral artists of the day. Far from titillating us, he castigates us.” But Bacon does no such thing. Firstly, he is not concerned with our “times” in any historical sense, except in so far as he personally embodies them. For Bacon, images from news photographs and films—the screaming nurse on the Odessa steps in Potemkin or a Nazi armband, for example—have little to say about “our degenerate times” and volumes to say about Bacon’s roiling inner life. When a television commentator suggested that Bacon’s work was a condemnation of man’s inhumanity to man, Bacon retorted: “That’s the last thing I think of.”


It is not Bacon’s stark subject matter that disqualifies him as a “moral artist”; it is his aestheticization of the horror depicted. As the critic Yvor Winters explains, the moral artist does not shy from exploring the extremes of human experience, but he portrays evil as evil and makes us know it as evil. This is not the case with Bacon, either in his professed world view or in his practice:

In all the motor accidents I’ve seen, people strewn across the road, the first thing you think of is the strange beauty—the vision of it, before you think of trying to do anything… .

There’s no one more unnatural than myself, and, after all, I’ve worked on myself to be as unnatural as I can. I can’t really talk about painting because I only work for myself and just by chance it happens that for some reason I’ve been lucky enough to be able to live by something that obsesses me, but I haven’t got any morals to preach… . I just work as closely to my nerves as I can.

One leaves the Bacon show at the Tate feeling beaten up by images of the dying George Dyer (Bacon’s tragic lover) vomiting into a sink, the gaping wounds, the twisted flesh. Bacon sought to transmit emotion as immediately as possible, which in a sense he did, but it’s not emotion he transmits so much as sensation. Shock lends Bacon’s work its edge, but it diminishes it as well. The paintings register like a trauma on the spinal column, without ever reaching the more complex centers of the brain. Later in Bacon’s career, when shock gave way to chic, the game was lost. Second Version of Triptych 1944, his reworking of Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, replaces the brushy energy of the earlier work with a spray-painted softness that makes Bacon’s phallic Furies look like tchotchkas in a Madison Avenue boutique. His Innocent X of 1965 replaces the pontiff’s rictus with the taffy-pull features of the later portraits. Bacon became convinced that he could have done the Popes better than he had, but this is no proof. Nor is the reworking of Painting from the 1960s (not included in the Tate show), which dresses the macabre scene up with a sunny yellow background and what look like paper garlands—a travesty of Gauguin’s Yellow Christ (1889). Bacon detested illustration, but in the end he failed to escape it, and the portraits moved him even further in this direction.


The Peppiatt book contains a revealing quotation: “When I was young, I needed extreme subject matter for my paintings… . Then as I grew older I began to find my subject matter in my own life. During the 1960s the Furies, the dictators and screaming Popes, the anonymous figures trapped in darkened rooms gave way to portraits of living identified beings.” And here is the disconnect: Bacon reviled abstraction because for him it was all design, empty aesthetics. Bacon relied on his figures to ground his work in reality, to lend his paintings the force and horror of the real world. But the triptychs and portraits of the Sixties and later marinate in the very aesthetic stew he had hoped to avoid. Bacon’s contortions of angst become so pretty, so tasteful. The large squares of pink and orange (orange is the new pink, or is it the other way around?), the natty black suits, the distinctive chaises and tables make the lot seem very “safe” indeed.


The selection of works for the exhibition is judicious, suggesting more variety in the work than is really there. After the monotony of the Bacon treatment—floating central figures against disconnected flat colors—sets in, the decline is steady: the final paintings are his least interesting. As David Sylvester prophesied in 1955, “many of the things that make [Bacon] exciting today may render him laughable for future generations.” The colored arrows pointing to newspapers and wounds and bodies on toilets; the globs of thrown white paint; the increased staginess—all seem like precious, empty gestures. The Tate retrospective carefully elucidates Bacon’s photographic sources; it includes BBC footage of Bacon in conversation with David Sylvester that highlights his considerable charm, but the work itself seems no different that it did at the MOMA retrospective in 1990—except that it has grown a little more tired with the passage of time.


Bacon’s paintings, ostensibly transmitting high-pitched emotion, are cut off from emotion. He never flinched from working on a grand scale, from putting his feet up against the masters—Grünewald, Titian, Vélazquez—but in the end his almost mechanical serialism and cool shocks bring him closer to Warhol, whose films Bacon admired even as he turned his nose up at the paintings. Rather than being the greatest British painter since Turner, Bacon may better be seen as the great precursor to the soullessness of Damien Hirst, whose shark is currently on view at the Met. When Francis Bacon arrives in New York next summer, viewers will have a chance to consider the two artists under one roof.




1. Francis Bacon opened at Tate Britain, London, on September 11, 2008 and remains on view through January 4, 2009. The exhibition will travel to the Museo National del Prado, Madrid (February 3–April 19, 2009) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (May 18–August 19, 2009). A catalogue edited by Matthew Gale and Chris Stephens, with essays by Martin Harrison, David Alan Mellor, Simon Ofield, Gary Tinterow, and Victoria Walsh, has been printed by Tate Publishing (288 pages, £24.99 paper).



2. Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, by Michael Peppiatt; Constable, 456 pages, £12.99 paper.

David Yezzi is the Executive Editor of The New Criterion.




Leading 20th Century Artists Present at Sotheby's Contemporary Art Sale in Paris


Art Daily, Tuesday, December 2, 2008


PARIS.- Sotheby’s two-session sale of contemporary art, to be held in Paris on December 10/11, has an overall estimate of €12-17 million and features 142 important works by leading 20th century artists. Several represent landmarks in their artists' careers or number among the handful of works by the artist still in private hands.

The top lot at the evening sale is expected to be Francis Bacon's Two Figures (1961), featuring two sturdy, naked figures shown contorted and convulsed, their faces wracked in pain (lot 11, estimate €5,000,000-7,000,000). This sort of subject recurred in Bacon's work for many years, but this painting is particularly important as it marks a watershed in his figurative approach. By placing the Two Figures in an abstract setting, Bacon underlines both their solitude and captive condition – they are imprisoned, as it were, within a dull field of faded pink and dirty grey, where space and time are frozen.

Sotheby’s Paris has now offered major works by Francis Bacon on three occasions, including Seated Woman (a portrait of Muriel Belcher), which holds the record price for contemporary art in France at €13.7m.




Contemporary Art 


Sale: PF8020  |  Location: Paris
Auction Dates: Session 1: Wed, 10 Dec 08 7:00 PM


Lot 11 Francis Bacon 1909-1992  TWO FIGURES
5,000,000—7,000,000 EUR:  Unsold



                       Two Figures 1961 Francis Bacon




198 x 142 cm; 77 7/8 x 55 7/8 in.



huile et sable sur toile

Exécuté en 1961.

Cette oeuvre sera incluse dans le Catalogue Raisonné de l'oeuvre de Francis Bacon actuellement en préparation par Martin Harrison.


Marlborough Fine Art, Londres
McCrory Corporation, New York
McKee Gallery, New York
Edward R. Broida, Los Angeles


Londres, Tate Gallery, Francis Bacon, 1962, illustré no.87
Mannheim, Kunsthalle, Francis Bacon, 1962, illustré no.76
Turin, Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna, Francis Bacon, 1962, illustré, no.81
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Francis Bacon, 1962, no.75
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Francis Bacon, 1963, illustré, no. 66
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum et exposition itinérante à Chicago, Art Institute, Francis Bacon, 1963-1964, illustré pp. 29 et 53, no. 53
Orlando, Museum of Art, The Edward R. Broida Collection: A Selection of Works, 1998, illustré p. 34
Milan, Palazzo Reale, Bacon, 2008, no. 30, illustré p. 122


Stephen Spender, Quandrum XI, décembre 1961, illustré p. 53
John Rothenstein, Ronald Alley, Francis Bacon, édition Thames and Hudson Londres, 1964, no. 184, illustré p. 137


oil and sand on canvas. Executed in 1961.

« ... De ma prison, je vois tout. Dans ma cabine en verre isolant, on m'observe. Seuls mes pieds solubles s'échappent sur les soupiraux de l'inconnu, chiens perdus des rois déchus. Je chante, je hurle, je ricane, j'insulte, je sanglote. Alors explosion. Il tombe des flocons de chair qui s'accumulent et se transforment en paysages, en sphinx. De la terre, de mon corps, en fouillant, j'extrais les vestiges de leurs secrets. Les fantômes n'ont pas d'âge ; sous leurs travestis, ils sont humains. ... ».
Roland Penrose (in Francis Bacon, galerie Rive Droite, Paris, 1957)

« Bacon, à Paris, devrait faire l'effet d'une bombe. ».
(Cimaise, Michel Ragon, janvier 1963, compte rendu de la rétrospective Bacon à la Tate Gallery à Londres ouverte en mai 1962 dans laquelle Two Figures était exposée)

« Bacon, à Paris, devrait faire l'effet d'une bombe. ».

En écrivant ces lignes, extraites de la revue d'art française Cimaise parue au mois de janvier 1963, Michel Ragon rapporte l'actualité artistique anglaise. Il évoque en particulier l'événement survenu au mois de mai 1962, à la Tate Gallery à Londres. La respectable institution a offert à Francis Bacon une grande rétrospective composée de 90 œuvres de l'artiste, parmi lesquelles Two Figures était incluse. Cette exposition majeure ensuite itinérante et présentée, jusqu'en 1963, à Mannheim, Turin, Zurich et Amsterdam, marque aussi la prééminence de l'artiste parmi les peintres anglais qui lui sont contemporains.

Si Francis Bacon jouit en Grande-Bretagne, et cela depuis fort longtemps, d'une cote considérable, son succès s'illustre aussi en 1960 à Londres à la Marlborough Gallery où il réalise sa première exposition en collaboration avec cette galerie prestigieuse. Cette-dernière constitue à l'époque l'un des plus grands et des plus beaux locaux de Londres ou de Paris. Elle compte dans son programme le plus grand sculpteur anglais vivant, Henri Moore, et ne se limitant pas à l'art contemporain, elle organise aussi des expositions des œuvres de Vincent Van Gogh, de Degas, de Monet ou de Renoir.

Quand Two Figures est peint en 1961, Francis Bacon a 52 ans. Le corps et le visage de l'homme sont pour lui des leitmotivs depuis longtemps. Ils deviennent avec la représentation du mouvement des thèmes incontournables dans l'œuvre de l'artiste, aussi bien qu'un tableau intitulé Turning Figure apparaît en 1962. Il qualifie à l'évidence un mouvement de torsion de la figure sur elle-même, tout en conservant cette impression que le corps est comprimé nerveusement. Les prémices de Turning Figure s'observent précisément dans Two Figures qui est réalisé l'année précédente. Two Figures apparaît dès lors comme une œuvre essentielle, infléchissant l'ensemble du système figuratif que Francis Bacon mettra désormais en place. Ainsi coupée des formes conventionnelles de la figuration, l'œuvre de Francis Bacon témoigne de l'inutilité des anciens mythes et de l'impossibilité de raconter tout récit à partir de son œuvre.

«Vous avez compris que ce n'est pas pour les autres que je peins. C'est pour moi. Je n'ai personne à séduire, à tromper, à orienter.».
(Entretien avec Pierre Descargues, Marseille 1976, in L'Art est vivant, p. 311).

Pour atteindre ce moment crucial dans l'évolution de sa peinture, Francis Bacon est captivé: « Michel-Ange et Muybridge se mêlent dans mon esprit, ainsi je pourrais peut-être apprendre des positions de Muybridge et apprendre de l'ampleur, de la grandeur des formes de Michel-Ange. ...Comme la plupart de mes modèles sont des nus masculins, je suis sûr que j'ai été influencé par Michel-Ange qui a réalisé les nus masculins les plus voluptueux des arts plastiques.». Les fragments harmonieux des sculptures grecques, les dessins parfaits de Michel-Ange se confondent dans son souvenir des corps aimés et des photographies d'Eadweard Muybridge, pour enfin se concrétiser dans la pulsion du geste de peindre. Si les photographies d'Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904) oscillent entre la science et l'art et sont célèbres pour leurs décompositions du mouvement, les modèles qu'elles représentent rejoignent le maniérisme caractéristique des sculptures de Michel-Ange (1474-1564). Ce dernier inspire, notamment dans l'aspect «inachevé» de ses Esclaves du musée de l'Académie à Florence, l'ouverture vers l'infini, traduisant la lutte de l'esprit cherchant à se libérer de la matière.

La figure se trouve dans l'alternance de sa présence et de son absence. Sortie dans un vide, ou plutôt dans un plein, elle semble sortir d'un miroir où les deux chairs se confondent. Two Figures sculpte les modèles dans le tableau. En évoquant le double mouvement de l'inscription et de l'effacement des corps dans l'espace, une telle tension renvoie vers l'œuvre d'Alberto Giacometti, avec qui Francis Bacon se nouera d'ailleurs d'amitié ; dans les sculptures de ce-dernier le corps de l'homme est souvent représenté, en rendant justement un peu plus indistincte la frontière entre l'absence et la présence de la matière. Les tourments du vide sont aussi évoqués dans Two Figures avec la présence de l'ombre noire, habillant le personnage qui est situé au premier plan de l'oeuvre. Le titre en anglais de celle-ci, dénombrant deux modèles, devient dès lors très ambigü. La lecture de deux personnage dans le tableau est assez difficile et renvoit directement au rapport que Francis Bacon entretient avec la mort: "La mort est comme l'ombre de la vie. Quand on est mort, on est mort, mais tant qu'on est en vie, l'idée de la mort vous poursuit... ." (Francis Bacon, Entretiens avec Michel Archimbaud, 1991-1992, 1996 Gallimard, Folio Essais p.126).

" On ne sait jamais d'ailleurs ce qu'une image produit en vous. Elles entrent dans le cerveau, et puis après on ne sait pas comment c'est assimilé, digéré. Elles sont transformées, mais on ne sait pas comment. " (Francis Bacon, Entretiens avec Michel Archimbaud, op. cité, p.18). Comme l'artiste donne à le comprendre, l'image se transforme souvent au cours du travail et la relation avec le sujet s'établit dans le mouvement même de la peinture. Ce que Francis Bacon cherche à créer sur la toile, c'est de donner au modèle la place centrale, en le situant au milieu des énergies tournoyantes créées par la tension intérieure des corps en mouvement. Dans Two Figures l'artiste réussit avec virtuosité ce tour de force esthétique et transmet ces énergies à travers l'ardeur des traces de sa main qui maintient le pinceau.

Se libérer de la matière pour mieux concevoir la beauté d'un être, c'est aussi le savoir disparaître dans l'ardeur d'une intolérable combustion. Les corps les plus robustes de Two Figures se tordent dans un mouvement apparemment brutal, convulsif, renforcé par l'impersonnalité croissante du visage grimaçant devenu presque illisible. Le modèle, pivotant dans un mouvement maniériste, superposant les attitudes comme il le ferait dans une construction cubiste, se contractant dans une position délibérément faussée, désaxée, est soumis à une volonté paradoxale consistant à le défigurer pour rendre sa figuration plus forte, directe et saisissante.

En plaçant Two Figures dans un décor abstrait, la solitude des modèles nus augmente, l'un d'entre eux n'ayant pour défense apparente que ses dents sorties avec rage. La captivité des personnages dans la couleur sourde du vieux rose et du blanc mêlé de gris composant le fond du tableau fige en outre l'espace et le temps. Temps voluptueux rendu visible, dont les personnages semblent vouloir briser le cours. En surgissant dans une pièce réduite à l'essentiel pour exister à la frange de l'abstrait, les modèles donnent l'impression de vouloir franchir les lignes de démarcations du tableau et en détruire la vitre. Quoique figés, ce que les modèles rendent paradoxalement explicite, c'est encore la vitesse du pinceau et des brosses. Vitesse d'ailleurs volontaire à la recherche de l'accident. Dans cette démarche, Francis Bacon rappelle également celle poursuivie par Cy Twombly dans une représentation purement abstraite: introduire le déséquilibre, l'erreur, la rature, et constituer un univers par le renversement des valeurs essentielles traditionnelles.

La tension intérieure de Two Figures démontre avec maestria le style puissant de Francis Bacon. L'artiste affirme aussi, en recherchant obstinément la vérité devant le sujet, que l'avenir de l'homme est dans l'homme: pensée peut-être la plus ouverte et la plus généreuse que l'on appelle l'humanisme.

Fig.1-2. Francis Bacon, 1984. - © Hans Namuth.

Fig.3. Michel-Ange Buonarroti, Male Nude, circa 1504. - © Albertina.

Fig.4. Michel-Ange Buonarroti, Esclave, Académie Florence. - © Brogi.

Fig.5. Michel-Ange Buonarroti, La Furie. Palais de Windsor - © Braun.

Fig.6. Turning Figure, 1962, huile sur toile, 198,2 x 144,7 cm. Gilbert de Botton, Family trust. - © The Estate of Francis Bacon/ADAGP, Paris, 2008




Art: Bacon with trimmings

Charles Darwent recommends spending Boxing Day with Kandinsky's colours or on Francis's stud