Francis Bacon News















This vast retrospective of the work of one of Britain's greatest contemporary artists, Francis Bacon (1909 1992) is a major celebration heralding the centenary of his birth, and a comprehensive and exhaustive document of his prolific career.

Born in Dublin of English parents, Bacon first worked as an interior designer. He started painting around 1928, but destroyed most of his early work. He revealed his talent as a major artist in 1945 with an instantly unforgettable and shocking work titled Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion.

This was the start of one of the most controversial and disturbing careers in the history of modern art. Bacon's demoralizing philosophy that man is simply another animal in a godless world, subject to the same natural urges towards violence, lust and fear, was at times in contrast with his paintings infused as much with unbearable emotional anguish, as with love. They are often extremely beautiful despite their gut-wrenching subject matter.

This, the first UK retrospective of Bacon's work since 1985, is a form of re-assessment of his oeuvre, afforded by new research that has emerged since the revelation of his studio and its contents following the artist's death. One of the rooms in the exhibition, Archive, offers a glance into the inner sanctum of the artist, revealing to what extent he relied on photography, and how he manipulated photographic imagery. The imagery itself, like Bacon's paintings for that matter is often brutal, on the theme of violence and conflict, but also focused on works of art, including stills from old film.

Bacon's preoccupation with the human body and its suffering, is the central theme of all of his works. He developed a unique way of depicting the physical and emotional torment racking the body, by twisting and deforming it, reducing it to a fleshy mass emitting a silent scream of pain. His flamboyant homosexuality and personal transgressions only added to his mythical stature, and are an intrinsic element of his work.

The Tate retrospective brings together many famous paintings and triptychs including Study after Velazquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1953), In Memory of George Dyer (1971), and Two Figures in the Grass (1954).

This, however, is but the tip of the iceberg. The exhibition is chock full of recognizable paintings, but that is perhaps due to Bacon's unmistakeable style.

It is divided into ten sections, or rooms, starting with Animal, showing works done in the 1940s and reflecting the artist's original theory of man as an animal in a world without redemption. The bestial depiction of the human form is at times combined with specific references to the horrors of the Second World War. It is in this room that we are first introduced to one of the early variations on the theme of the Velazquez painting, which became an obsession with the painter, Head VI (1949). All it really is, is a screaming face, featureless except for the gaping mouth.

Room 2, Zone, focuses on Bacon's experiments with pictorial space, and the interaction between subject and setting. In most of his works, the figure is solitary, isolated, yet placed centrally, almost on a stage, therefore exposed to public scrutiny in all its vulnerability. This visual formula weaves throughout his career, and is symbolic of the artist's sense of being alone in his suffering.

Room 3 is under the heading Apprehension, and the sense of dread permeating the works in this section is of a very unusual kind. The Man in Blue reigns in this hall, a haunting, looming figure behind an enormous desk, a sinister, shadowy presence exuding a particularly personal menace. This series refers to the continued illegality of homosexuality, and on a personal level, to Bacon's sometimes violent affair with Peter Lacy. This room also holds the Chimpanzee (1955), a terrifying depiction of confinement and cruelty.

Through Crucifixion, Crisis, and Portrait, to Epic, Memorial and Late, each section is a world onto itself, a mini exhibition within the framework of a large one.

Portraits is like a burst of colour in the otherwise sombre palette that predominates in Bacon's oeuvre. Gone is the cage-like grid holding the figure, the space is infused with light, ochres and greens. His lover and most frequent model, George Dyer, is seen in many of the works, like Three Figures in a Room (1964), in which he is represented with a mixture of pathos and affection section is a world onto itself, a mini exhibition within the framework of a large one.

But it is in the room titled Memorial that one finds perhaps the most accomplished, and the most painful of Bacon's works. The room is entirely dedicated to Dyer, who was the artist's closest companion as of 1963, and who committed suicide in 1971, two days before Bacon's major exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris. Racked by loss and pain, Bacon created a series of works in the memory of Dyer, that speaks a subtly different visual language. The fines are cleaner, the imagery less raw, the setting staged, as if the horror of the event was too much to bear and had to be presented in a theatrical, detached manner.

The figure, as always, is placed centre stage, exposed in all its physical degradation and beauty, terribly human in its vulnerability and helplessness.

Presented in triptychs Bacon's way of fulfilling his longing for cinematic expression it shows Dyer slumped on a toilet seat, dying, a giant black shadow spilling from the central image like a great pool of blood

Bacon was legendary for his resigned defiance in the face of mortality, but the death of his friend was devastating. "Death is the only absolute certainty," he told a friend. "Artists know that they can't defeat it, but I think that most artists are very aware of their annihilation it follows them around like their shadow."

For someone wrestling with such overwhelming forces, Bacon exhibited an impressive discipline at work, pouring his torment onto the canvas with an unconscious, or perhaps very deliberate, sense of it being his only salvation.

In the last room of this magnificent exhibition, we come face to face with the artist so to speak. A series of wonderful selfportraits reveal the man behind the easel; a profound, deeply thinking, complex personality. In Three Studies for a Self-Portrait (1979-80), the face is a twisting, undulating patchwork of colour against a dark background. The features are typically contorted, but what draws the attention are the eyes that see, and look back at us.

What strikes one when contemplating the expanse of Bacon's prolific production, is how very consistent he was in his style and subject matter, and yet at the same time how endlessly, surprisingly fresh each of his painting is to this day. Despite the scatological, eviscerating nature of his work, the viewer is instantly immersed in its story, often unaware of, oblivious to the fabulous calibre of the art. The two go hand in hand in Bacon's paintings, the horror and the beauty, life and art, united by the indomitable creative spirit that helped him survive and fed his talent.


EXHIBITION    FRANCIS BACON   TATE BRITAIN    Upper Galleries  London, UK   11 September 2008 – 4 January 2009








Francis Bacon







AS FRANCIS BACON’s third retrospective at Tate Britain (to 4th January) 1 has been timed to coincide with the centenary of his birth in 2009, it seems appropriate that it should attempt a recanonisation of the painter’s achievements. Bacon, always a sacred cow and regarded as a titan of painting since his death in 1992, has been awarded a coveted status accorded to only a few artists in every generation. Cy Twombly is perhaps the most recent to achieve this, and he has done so by disengaging his work from its origins in Arte Povera and washing himself of contemporary allegiances. In Bacon’s case, enough time has passed since the last major exhibition in London (1985; Tate Britain) to permit the viewing of his work in a very different context. Back then, painting, which since the 1970s had been marginalised in favour of new art forms, was the subject of a renewed interest, specifically figurative painting. This interest was identified closely with the Royal Academy’s 1981 exhibition A New Spirit in Painting, which spawned a surge of market-friendly Neo-Expressionism. This was followed in 1984 by the more parochial The Hard-Won Image at the Tate Gallery, which embraced figuration in a cadaver-pumping bid to bring painting back in from the cold. The subsequent 1985 Bacon retrospective provided the much needed impetus for a debate about the relevance of painting, and satisfied the intellectual requirements of people who liked art but still did not really approve of painting. Gerhard Richter went on to make this role of the intellectual painter his own, and brought about a renewal that Bacon’s work always rooted in much older concerns, could never effect. Studying at St Martin’s School of Art in the early 1980s and poring over well-thumbed, paint-splattered monographs the early 1980s and poring over well-thumbed, paint-splattered monographs on Bacon’s work (long before Gilles Deleuzes’s The Logic of Sensation was translate into English), it seemed to me that his concerns were those of an earlier generation.

The current exhibition aims both to reinforce Bacon’s reputation as Britain’s greatest modern painter, but also to question how Bacon propagandised his own work and, further, how it might now be reinterpreted. The juxtaposition of works enables the viewer to test new lines of approach. However, the new groupings that emerge from the interpretation-led presentation at the Tate do, however, result in some misleadingly themed rooms: ‘Crisis’, ‘Apprehension’ and ‘Zone’ for example, manage to be simultaneously vague and over-prescriptive. It is also perhaps misleading to lay such emphasis, as the centrepiece of the show, on a display of documentary and source material. This is the result of a long history of obsessive archiving of the ephemera from Bacon’s Reece Mews studio and, although it includes some interesting photographs, is diluted by some unremarkable works on paper. Since the early 1990s this material has been the main focus for Bacon scholars and should have enhanced the exhibition, but here the effect is more anecdotal than one of powerful elucidation. The one exception is that Bacon’s notebooks, containing lists of potential paintings, revealingly highlight the degree of premeditation and planning of the images, and in doing so support the case for Bacon as a highly methodical, strategic painter.

One of the most successful rooms is filled with the early 1950s dark inky-blue portraits of businessmen in suits, spatially flattened in airless niches – surely these have never looked better. But this room seems restrained in comparison with the histrionically titled ‘Crisis’ room. Here Bacon veers off course with the slashed-on, painterly Bomberg/Soutine mash-ups done in 1956–57 such as Figures in a landscape (1956–57;Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery) and Figure in a mountain landscape (1956; Kunsthaus, Zürich) but returning to some sort of form with the Study for portrait of Van Gogh VI (1957; Arts Council Collection).

These days it is becoming harder to stomach the critically reiterated idea that the horrors of the early twentieth century, apparently depicted in these paintings, underpin Bacon’s pre-eminence as a painter of the human condition. One of the successes of the current exhibition is to show that Bacon’s paintings may have less to do with ‘real’ violence than with imagined violence. Such violence is conjured up as an antithesis of boredom, fantasised to enrich the artist’s daily life, in the manner of Patrick Bateman, the protagonist of Bret Easton Ellis’s novel America Psycho (1991). The Three studies for figures at the base of a Crucifixion (c.1944; Tate), Bacon’s ‘year zero’ painting, here tightly grouped in a small room with two other large-scale triptych Crucifixions from 1962 and 1965, rebuff the pundits’ view that they somehow represent the more grotesque atrocities of the Second World War without actually illustrating them. Indeed, even Bacon’s own claim that ‘paint should come across directly onto the nervous system’ wears thin when pitched against such subject-matter.

Martin Harrison’s catalogue essay goes some way towards exploring this dilemma, which is, in short, how to consider Bacon’s statements about his own work in the context both of research into previously unavailable material and of the simple experience of looking at the paintings. For example, it is interesting to question how much Bacon’s often repeated statement ‘I do not know what accident will occur’ actually played in his work process.2 It seems obvious now that the paintings made after the late 1950s are very formulaic in their construction – and this is not necessarily a bad thing. This interpretation liberates the viewer from considering Bacon’s work only in a traditional expressionist context, following the credo that every brushstroke can be considered to have been torn from the artist’s soul. It is appropriate that the 1956 film Lust for Life (the biopic of Van Gogh starring Kirk Douglas) is mentioned in the catalogue essay by David Alan Mellor as the inspiration for the Study for portrait of Van Gogh series that Bacon knocked out a few days after seeing the film.

To simply accept Bacon’s version of how images floated into his head and then appeared on the canvas is to detract from his great skill as a painter which is in the composition and execution of the works. What makes him such an interesting artist for other painters has as much to do with what he leaves out of his paintings as it does with what he puts in, and his continual short-circuiting of traditional figurative mannerisms. In order to rupture traditional readings Bacon developed a series of devices, which can be seen, for example, in the grouping entitled ‘Portrait’ in the current exhibition. The paintings Landscape near Malabata, Tangier (1963; Fig.34), Three figures in a room (1964; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris) and Study of George Dyer in a mirror (1968; Museo Thysse Bornemisza, Madrid) all adopt either the chevron shape or the curved ellipse – which first emerged in the Pope paintings – as a device which operates in the bottom half of the painting as an effective way of breaking the foreground/middleground/background convention of figurative painting. Two studies for a portrait of George Dyer (1968; Fig.35) is a good example of the potential for failure of this device. Bacon allows the ground to drop off the bottom of the canvas and hence the space of the painting becomes recessive and even conventional – just a portrait of a sitter. Viewed in this light, it is as if the ejaculation of paint over the figure’s legs functions solely to prevent the painting from becoming nothing more than a portrait of a man in a room with a distorted face. Bacon’s depiction of space only really works when the spatial arena is a believable distortion so that he makes it his own.

It is also tempting to align Bacon’s work with that of Graham Sutherland, but the latter’s surrealistic and symbolic images have not stood the test of time as well as has Bacon’s work. Is it the Miró-esque landscape or the insipid Englishness of Sutherland’s paintings which deadens them, in the same way that Paul Nash’s dumping of mangled pieces of modernity into English fields has dated? It is true to say that Bacon was operating  in the same socio-political context as Sutherland and Nash, but by setting everything he did within a hermetic personal arena (haunted by the ghost of Duchamp’s Large glass and furnished with tubular chrome and G-plan furniture), Bacon was able to create a unique contemporary modernism which has not dated in the same way.

What is not suppressed in the current exhibition, although hardly emphasised in the catalogue, is the older ideal of cruelty that presides over Bacon’s imagery: the dark end-of-the-pier humour of Punch and Judy, the nasty after-taste of nineteenth-century British Colonialism unveiled and exposed as ‘the bible, the bottle, and the lash’. Bacon deliberately and very effectively steered his work away from pictorial convention and flaunted controversy, for example, by disingenuously palming off the motif of a hypodermic needle away from pictorial convention and flaunted controversy, for example, by disingenuously palming off the motif of a hypodermic needle sticking into the veins of one of his subjects as a formalist device. Bacon’s shock tactics were as calculated as those of Turner, who enjoyed the drama of pulling back the curtain to his blacked-out studio to an audience full of nervous expectation. 

It is also tempting to align Bacon’s work with that of Graham Sutherland, but the latter’s surrealistic and symbolic images have not stood the test of time as well as has Bacon’s work. Is it the Miró-esque landscape or the insipid Englishness of Sutherland’s paintings which deadens them, in the same way that Paul Nash’s dumping of mangled pieces of modernity into English fields has dated? It is true to say that Bacon was operating in the same socio-political context as Sutherland and Nash, but by setting everything he did within a hermetic personal arena (haunted by the ghost of Duchamp’s Large glass and furnished with tubular chrome and G-plan furniture), Bacon was able to create a unique contemporary modernism which has not dated in the same way.

What is not suppressed in the current exhibition, although hardly emphasised in the catalogue, is the older ideal of cruelty that presides over Bacon’s imagery: the dark end-of-the-pier humour of Punch and Judy, the nasty after-taste of nineteenth-century British Colonialism unveiled and exposed as ‘the bible, the bottle, and the lash’. Bacon deliberately and very effectively steered his work away from pictorial convention and flaunted controversy, for example, by disingenuously palming off the motif of a hypodermic needle away from pictorial convention and flaunted controversy, for example, by disingenuously palming off the motif of a hypodermic needle sticking into the veins of one of his subjects as a formalist device. Bacon’s shock tactics were as calculated as those of Turner, who enjoyed the drama of pulling back the curtain to his blacked-out studio to an audience full of nervous expectation.

Of course, by the time of the 1985 exhibition such tactics were no longer so effective. Bacon’s later paintings of dwarf-like figures in cricket pads, inspired by his lust for the cricketing legend Ian Botham, or his triptych of Mick Jagger, seemed like an ill-judged over-indulgence. In the Tate’s current show these works are mostly omitted in favour of the post-1985 work. This includes Jet of water (1988; Fig.36) an image without the presence of a figure which promised a new departure and which, confusingly, was painted in the same year as the Second version of Triptych 1944 (1988; Tate), which has the feeling of a disastrous come-back gig and is wisely relegated to the vestibule outside the exhibition. Incredibly, and in perverse defiance of the spontaneous nature of the subject, the 1988 Jet of water is in fact a fairly identical version to a first Jet of water painted in 1979. A display of these two works together might have instigated the kind of revisionism that Bacon’s work now needs.

R.B. Kitaj reportedly took to his bed for a couple of days after seeing Bacon’s 1985 Tate exhibition, overwhelmed and unnerved by the achievement of his contemporary. But the current exhibition avoids any homage to the aggrandising exhibition layouts typical of David Sylvester’s hangs, seen to particularly impressive effect in his posthumous homage to Bacon, The Human Body, mounted at the Hayward Gallery in in 1998. Although there are no great surprises in the loans to the show, and despite misleading interpretative categories, Bacon’s work is allowed to unravel. The catalogue essays are for the most part illuminating but fail to capitalise on this opportunity to challenge the hagiography. It will be interesting to see if this tangible difference is maintained when the exhibition tours to the Prado, and whether the themed rooms are retained at the subsequent and final showing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. By the end of this exhibition tour we might hope that some more of the myth surrounding Francis Bacon will have been debunked, in favour of the view that these are simply the most original inventive figurative paintings of their time.


1 The exhibition travels to the Museo National del Prado, Madrid (3rd February to 19th April) and to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (18th May to 16th August). Catalogue: Francis Bacon. Edited by Matthew Gale and Chris Stephens, with contributions by Martin Harrison, David Alan Mellor, Simon Ofield, Gary Tinterow and Victoria Walsh. 288 pp. ncl. 151 col. + 56 b. & w. ills. (Tate Publishing, London, 2008), £24.99. ISBN 978–1–85437–738–8. The exhibits are not numbered in the checklist; the bibliography is selective.

2  ‘Francis Bacon: Letters to Michel Leiris 1966-89’, in exh. cat. Supplement to Francis Bacon, London (Gagosian Gallery) 2006, p.23.



    Landscape near Malabata, Tangier, by Francis Bacon. 1963. Canvas, 198 by 147.5 cm.





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 December, 2008


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.




  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. 






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, Monday, 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, Thursday, 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











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



 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.

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

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

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

Fig.6. Turning Figure, 1962, huile sur toile, 198,2 x 144,7 cm. Gilbert de Botton, Family trust.





Art: Bacon with trimmings




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





The Independent on Sunday, 30 November 2008


Freud's friend and nemesis, Francis Bacon, slyly affected never to draw, although this was a lie. Bacon, incredibly, would have been 100 next October, which explains the sudden outbreak of Baconia in art publishing. Among the best of the resultant books is Francis Bacon: Studies for a Portrait (Yale £18.99) by the late artist's friend and chronicler, Michael Peppiatt, a collection of essays and interviews that offer a uniquely intimate glimpse into the life of a notoriously unintimate artist.

Martin Harrison can't match Peppiatt in the Boswell stakes, but his encyclopaedic knowledge of Bacon minutiae and connections to the artist's estate make him a pretty good runner-up. His earlier In Camera explored Bacon's debt to photography. Now, Francis Bacon: Incunabula (Thames & Hudson £39.95) picks through the sweepings on Bacon's studio floor. Scraps torn from medical books, reproductions of Velázquez portraits, Muybridge stills, over-worked shots of massacres from newspapers – all were grist to Bacon's satanic mill. Harrison presents this trove without intervening text, as though we were truffling through the detritus on the floor at 7 Reece Mews ourselves. It's a good way of approaching Bacon; also of whiling away a wet Christmas afternoon.





The Sunday Times books of the year: Art



The Sunday Times, November 30, 2008


It was, of course, an image inspired by the Bolshevik revolution the bloodied face of the nurse from Eisensteins film The Battleship Potemkin (1925, and therefore too late for Bowlt to mention) on which Francis Bacon based the heads of his screaming popes. He habitually painted from photographs, most torn from magazines and books, wilfully folded, daubed with paint and discarded feet-deep on the floor of his studio. Francis Bacon: Incunabula by Martin Harrison (Thames & Hudson £39.95) illustrates some 200 of these ephemeral images (everything from gay porn and pictures of skin diseases to, yes, stills from Potemkin), all furnished with brief explanatory notes. If you're a Bacon fanatic with an insatiable appetite for information about his guarded working methods you'll like this book. You'll also be drawn to Michael Peppiatt's Francis Bacon: Studies for a Portrait (Yale £18.99), an anthology of interviews and essays, several unpublished, a few repetitive, all relevant. Peppiatt writes about Bacon with refreshing and sometimes revealing candour.

Bacon appears in several places (in one, seemingly pulling his trousers down) in Lucian Freuds impressive On Paper (Cape £50). With an introduction by Sebastian Smee and an essay by Richard Calvocoressi, this is an extravagantly illustrated, satisfyingly fat volume about Freuds drawings in every medium. It spans his entire career from juvenilia signed in old German script to recent, densely worked etchings. Some of it looks clumsy, but more is mesmerising in its clairvoyant intensity. All of it suggests that Freud's most considerable achievements are the result of his abiding desire to reconcile drawing and painting. The texts are helpful, too, though this isn't chiefly a book to be read.




Lucian Freud’s early obsessions


Lucian Freud’s early works speak volumes about the shy artist’s sensuality — and the combination of intensity and detachment that women find irresistible. Waldemar Januszczak looks at the formative relationships of a master in the making


 The Sunday Times, November 30, 2008


It was also around this time that Freud met Francis Bacon. They were introduced by Graham Sutherland and met at Victoria station while setting off for a Sutherland weekend. Bacon seems to have freed Freud of any remaining guilt he may have harboured. “His work impressed me, but his personality affected me.” Bacon, who talked fondly of “the sensuality of treachery”, showed Freud “how to wing it through life, how to court risk, tempt accident and scorn the norm”. When Freud drew him one evening, Bacon pointedly unbuttoned his trousers.

“I think you ought to use these,” he said, sliding them down to reveal his hips. How strange that the only signs of unmistakable eroticism in Freud’s drawings should be supplied by a man.





Art: From canvas to cameras


By Michael Glover , The Independent, Friday, 28 November 2008


It's been a good year for lovers of the energising, sado-masochistic gloom of Francis Bacon. The catalogue of his Tate Britain show does him proud (Tate Publishing £24.99), and two other books thicken the tortured plot of his life. Incunabula (Thames & Hudson, £39.95) shows us images of the photographs and visual documents which fed into the wild frenzy of his painting. His friend and official biographer Michael Peppiatt has assembled Studies for a Portrait (Yale, £18.99), a marvellously absorbing book of essays and interviews.















Colony Room closing time?






Studio International, Wednesday, 26 November 2008



A glorious hub for artists, dilettantes and drunks for the past 60 years, the Colony Room in Soho now faces imminent closure. Brawls and protests have inevitably ensued, parties have been planned to pay for legal fees and some members have been banned for fighting closure. Amid all of this, the magnificent art collection which hangs modestly and cramped over the green walls of the tiny club is the subject of much conversation and speculation as to where it will go if or when the party ends.


Fondly regarded as a ‘‘home for those who dont have a home’’, the Colony Room has long been a meeting point for the most nomadic of the art world, its vagabonds, poets, drunks and their muses, friends and hangers-on in search of ‘‘a place to dissolve our inhibitions’’, as Francis Bacon would say. Muriel Belcher founded the infamous club 60 years ago, and paid the young Francis Bacon a salary of free drinks to bring in his crowd.


And so Frank Auerbach, Lucien Freud, Patrick Caulfield and others became regulars at the emerald dive, donating a picture here and there, and piece by little masterpiece built the collection that decorates the bar today, with additions from Damien Hirst, Sebastian Horsley, Sarah Lucas et al. Tracey Emin, the late Angus Fairhurst, Jay Jopling and Sam Taylor-Wood have all served the club's current owner, Michael Wojas, behind the bar.


Past the grimy buzzer, tucked into 41 Dean Street, through a door and at the top of some narrow stairs, the Colony Room has an almost mystical feel, damp with spilled gin (not beer), the odd tear and a general air of easy grimy debauchery: this is the downtime that follows the high art and the revelry to distract from the absurdity. But its not a pretentious place, and for all the mythology and wonder, its a cosy, grounded sort of place, all warm, vaguely stuffy, nicely scruffy, with swear words scrawled next to paintings and paintings scrawled in swear words. It is something akin to a gypsy caravan that decided to park. And yet now the vagabonds are being evicted. Where shall they go now? Damien Hirsts new B&B? That would be a little too bourgeois, surely, for Sohos surly rebels.


'Soho is dying!' moans Sebastian Horsley, ‘‘I have always said I will commit suicide when the Colony closes. Not that one needs an incentive.’’  Clearly, shutting down the Colony Room will have an affect on Soho similar to the effect of Prohibition on New York in the Twenties. But where Gatsby found a way to steer around the law then, so Sohos residents will presumably find some moonshine of sorts as well, rather than an out and out Depression. One would hope so, anyway.


The rebellion continues, and legal action is being taken over the art and over the club. A party to raise funds for consequential expenditure will be thrown in December, and the resistance goes on. But is it too late? ‘‘The ship is sinking. Man the lifeboats. Women and children first. Fuck the women and children. Is there time?’’  wonders Horsley.


But whether they drown or not, in their sorrows or their wine, one hopes that the punters (who are the real draw) will colonise elsewhere if need be, even after Sohos pirates push them overboard.














Rare works of Bacon defy art auction gloom




ABC News Australia, Tuesday, 25 November 2008


Two paintings of Francis Bacon, by an Australian artist believed to have been his lover, were sold for well over their pre-auction price last night.

The works by Roy de Maistre Francis Bacons Studio and Portrait Of Francis Bacon were sold for $180,000 and $96,000 respectively at Sothebys sale of modern Australian art in Melbourne.

The two paintings, among a collection of six de Maistre works, had not been seen by the public for nearly 50 years.

I think both works illustrate very well that even in the present climate, works of exceptional provenance which carry conservative estimates are strongly competed for by enthusiastic collectors, Georgina Pemberton, head of Sothebys Australian paintings, told Reuters.

All of de Maistres paintings sold tonight.

The de Maistre star lots, which depict one of Bacon's many studios and a portrait of the young artist with carefully drawn eyebrows and bright red lips, had been estimated by Sothebys at between $37,600-$50,000 and $5,000-$7,500.

Sothebys paintings specialist David Hansen said they had been painted in the 1930s, when the two artists were associating.

They were certainly closely associated both personally and professionally. Close, but exactly how close is not known, Mr Hansen said of the two artists.

De Maistre, who died in 1968, was considered a leading exponent of early modernism in Australia.

Bacon, who died in 1992, is believed to have made de Maistres acquaintance when he was about 20-years-old, possibly in France or London.  




Francis Bacon: Studies for a Portrait 



Michael Peppiatt. Yale Univ., $35 (208p) ISBN 978-0-300-14255-6


Publishers Weekly, 11/24/2008


Peppiatt, having already written Bacons biography (Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma), now submits a collection of essays and interviews spanning his career of writing on the artist. Some of the pieces, updated with material originally omitted because Bacon (1909–1992) was still living, take on new life. They also echo each other, as when, in an essay for Art International, Peppiatt writes that “comparatively few artists were admitted into Bacon's pantheon, and even they tended to be pared down to one or other aspect of their oeuvre”—Degas was one, as Bacon says in one interview: “Degas is complete in himself. I like his pastels enormously.” 

Each piece describes a different period in Bacon's life, a theme in the work, influences or significant companions. As each topic is inscribed with the biographical essentials, the motifs stand out in relief from the background details. The book gains a certain rhythm as the portrait is made simultaneously more simple and more complex. The effect, cast in Peppiatt's intimate reportage, works well, and the book will enrich the library of any Bacon enthusiast. 16 pages of colour and 35 b&w illus. (Jan.)






   Rare works about Francis Bacon defy art auction gloom



       Reuters, Monday November 24, 2008



         Portrait of Francis Bacon Roy de Maistre



MELBOURNE (Reuters Life!) Two rare artworks by Australian painter Roy de Maistre, which feature artist Francis Bacon who was believed to be his lover, will be auctioned by Sothebys on Monday among a collection of Australian modern art.

Of the six de Maistre paintings, the two works Francis Bacon's Studio and Portrait of Francis Bacon have not been seen by the public for nearly 50 years.

"All six of the de Maistres works on offer were painted in London in the 1930s when the two artists were associating," David Hansen, senior researcher and paintings specialist at Sothebys, told Reuters.

Francis Bacons Studio, with a pre-sale estimate of between A$60,000-A$80,000 ($37,600-$50,000), depicts one of Bacons many studios while Portrait of Francis Bacon, with a pre-sale estimate of between A$8,000-A$12,000 ($5,000-$7,500), shows a young Bacon, with carefully drawn eyebrows and bright red lips.

"The young Bacon was well known amongst members of Londons gay subculture for his cosmetic display," Hansen said.

"They were certainly closely associated both personally and professionally - close but exactly how close is not known," he said of the two artists. "It was often said that de Maistre taught Bacon how to paint, though both artists denied it."

Sotheby's said the auction, which also includes works by Australian artists John Perceval and Brett Whiteley, had generated substantial interest with potential buyers from Britain and Australia.

The works on offer have a collective pre-sale estimate of A$3.3 million-A$4.4 million ($2.1 million-$2.75 million).

De Maistre, who died in 1968, was considered a leading exponent of early Modernism in Australia. Bacon, who died in 1992, is believed to have made de Maistres acquaintance when he was about 20 years old, possibly in France or London.

(Reporting by Pauline Askin, Editing by Miral Fahmy)






Important Australian Art



Sale: AU0724  |  Location: Melbourne

Auction Dates: Session 1: Mon, 24 Nov 08 6:30 PM



   Portrait of Francis Bacon  Roy de Maistre 1935




8,000—12,000 AUD
Lot Sold.  Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium:  96,000 AUD



66 by 43.6m


Signed lower right

Oil on board

Painted in 1935



Dimitri Mitrinoviæ
Trustees of the New Atlantis Foundation
Glady MacDermot; thence by descent
Private collection, Switzerland



Roy de Maistre: A restrospective exhibition of paintings and drawings 1917-1960, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, May-June 1960, cat. 40



Neville Wallis, 'In the Humanist Tradition', The Observer, 15 May 1960, p. 20 (illus.)
Daniel Farson, The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon, Century, London, 1993, p. 28 and illus.
Heather Johnson, Roy de Maistre: The English Years 1930-1968, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1995, p. 26



Soon after moving to London in 1930, de Maistre began a relationship with Francis Bacon. Possibly a lover but certainly a good friend and benevolent father figure, de Maistre provided the technical advice and support which enabled bacon to make the transition from interior decorator to painter.

He was also a social and professional mentor; at de Maistre's Eccleston Street studio salon Bacon met people like the artists Henry Moore and Graham Sutherland, the young writer Patrick White and the expatriate Australian collector and art dealer Douglas Cooper, as well as patrons such as R.A. Butler and Gladys MacDermot, who commissioned Bacon to entirely redesign her Bloomsbury apartment.

De Maistre painted his young friend's portrait in 1930, and included the work in the three-man exhibtion – de Maistre paintings, Bacon pictures and rugs and pastels by Jean Shepeard – held in Bacon's studio in 1930. The present work is dated to some years later and shows Bacon in his mid 20s, looking, as de Maistre put it, 'like a somewhat dubious choirboy'.

It is indeed a strange, tense, enigmatic portrait of the young artist. Posed in three quarter profile in a strongly lit, shallow space in front of a blood-red curtain, Bacon's oddly unexpressive, even doll-like face is at once abstracted and alert, while his clasped hands seem to convey both formality and anxiety. In addition to the familiar cowlick quiff and the piercing blue eyes, the painting also shows carefully-drawn eyebrows and bright red lips. The young Bacon was well known amongst members of London's gay subculture for his cosmetic display. Michael Peppiat records that 'shortly after he had gained some recognition as an artist, he walked into a London bar where a well known homosexual wit was sitting. When their gazes met, the wit said loudly: "as for her, when I knew her, she was more famous for the paint that she put on her face than the paint she put on canvas"' Later, Patrick White was to recall Bacon's 'beautiful pansy-shaped face, sometimes with too much lipstick on it,' while 'a young relative of de Maistre remembers meeting Francis and wondering whether she should tell him he must have sucked his paintbrush and got red paint all over his mouth.'

Portrait of Francis Bacon is an affectionate and revealing image of the celebrated British artist at the start of his career, and an important memento of his constructive relationship with the older and wiser Australian.

1. Daniel Farson, The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon, Century, London, 1993, p. 28
2. Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1996, p. 56
3. Patrick White, Flaws in the Glass: a self-portrait, Jonathan Cape, London, 1983, p. 62
4. Peppiatt, op. cit., p. 56

We are most grateful to Heather Johnson, Andrew Brighton and Elizabeth Gertsakis for their assistance in cataloguing this work.





Important Australian Art


Sale: AU0724  |  Location: Melbourne

Auction Dates: Session 1: Mon, 24 Nov 08 6:30 PM



                    Francis Bacon's Studio  Roy de Maistre 1932



LOT 69


Estimate  60,000—80,000 AUD

Lot Sold  Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium:  180,000 AUD


91 by 76cm


Signed lower right; dated 1932 on the reverse

Oil on canvas



Dimitri Mitrinoviæ
Trustees of the New Atlantis Foundation
Glady MacDermot; thence by descent
Private collection, Switzerland



(possibly) Roy de Maistre, Mayor Gallery, London, October-November 1934 (Mayor Gallery label on stretcher bar on reverse)
Roy de Maistre: A retrospective exhibition of paintings and drawings 1917 - 1960, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, May - June 1960, cat. 21
Francis Bacon, Tate Gallery, London, 24 May-1 July 1962, cat. 93 (as Francis Bacon's Studio, 1932, lent by Roy de Maistre). Partial Tate Gallery exhibition label attached to reverse.



John Rothenstein and Ronald Alley, Francis Bacon, Thames & Hudson, London, 1964, p. 10
Mary Eagle, Australian Modern Painting Between the Wars 1914-1939, Bay Books, Sydney, 1989, p. 50 (illus.)
John Russell, Francis Bacon, Thames & Hudson, London, 1993, pp. 16-17
Andrew Sinclair, Francis Bacon: His Life and Violent Times, Crown Publishers, New York, 1993, p. 64
Heather Johnson, Roy de Maistre: The English Years 1930-1968, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1995, pp. 24, 77, 234



When Roy de Maistre and Francis Bacon met, the 21 year old Bacon had begun to establish himself as a fashionable furniture designer, producing severe glass and tubular-steel tables and chairs and synthetic-cubist screens and woven floor rugs. This art deco aesthetic chimed with de Maistre's own taste for geometric flat pattern, and he responded with strikingly moderne but 'topographically precise' views of Bacon's studio: Francis Bacon's Queensbury Mews Studio (1930, collection of the late Francis Elek) and Interior (1930, Manchester City Art Gallery).

They were the first of some ten pictures of Bacon's work spaces that de Maistre would produce during the early 1930s. In addition to these two and to Still Life (1933, National Gallery of Australia) and Mr Francis Bacon's Studio, Royal Hospital Road (1934, private collection), there are no fewer than six related paintings of one of these rooms, a whitewashed attic prism with open door and pictures leaning against the walls.

The precise location depicted is uncertain. John Rothenstein maintains that these works, too, depict the studio at 71 Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea , but Heather Johnson notes that 'sketches for the work were thought to have been made circa 1932, in which case the studio represented could have been one of the many Bacon occupied after leaving his Queensbury Mews studio in 1931 and before he moved into the Royal Hospital Road studio...Bacon had studios in Fulham Road, Cromwell Place and Glebe Place during this time.'

For those with an interest in the early Bacon, the picture's key interest lies in the two curious, Picassoesque works 'carefully, irreplaceably recorded by de Maistre'. 'Against bare boards and angular white surfaces, canvases are stacked, two turned towards the painter's brush, one of a skeletal and feathered bird, another of the quartered outline of a horse or dragon – the start of a movement from geonometric abstraction towards a more organic image... these are works of transition, those of an embryo trying to flesh itself.'

The picture also has a special importance for de Maistre scholars. The original version was purchased by Gladys MacDermot, de Maistre's great supporter both in Australia and in England, and attracted the particular interest of another of MacDermot's protégés, Dmitri Mitrinovic, political and aesthetic visionary and polemicist, and founder of the journals New Britain and New Atlantis. While MacDermot's painting was destroyed during the London Blitz, Johnson records that 'Mitrinovic commissioned a version...for himself, New Atlantis... almost identical to the original work' and that 'several other versions and variations of the work were also produced: a third, smaller work done for Mitrinovic and given to a follower, Jack Murphy... a fourth work also done for Mitrinovic and presently in a private collection associated with the New Atlantis Foundation...(the present work) and a sixth work, White Figure, Art Gallery of Western Australia. All the extant works are believed to have been done circa 1933 developed from sketches de Maistre made in Bacon's studio in 1932.'

1. Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1996, p. 51
2. John Rothenstein and Ronald Alley, Francis Bacon, Thames & Hudson, London, 1964, p. 10
3. Heather Johnson, Roy de Maistre: The English Years 1930-1968, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1995, p. 77
4. John Russell, Francis Bacon, Thames & Hudson, London, 1993, p. 16
5. Andrew Sinclair, Francis Bacon: His Life and Violent Times, Crown Publishers, New York, 1993, p. 64
6. Heather Johnson, Roy de Maistre: The English Years 1930-1968, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1995, p. 77

We are most grateful to Heather Johnson, Andrew Brighton and Elizabeth Gertsakis for their assistance in cataloguing this work.





Francis Bacon: gesto y agonía de la figura humana



CARLOS M. LUIS, ARTES Y LETRAS Especial/El Nuevo Herald


El Nuevo Herald, Miami, 23 de Noviembre del 2008


Como parte de la celebración del centenario en el 2009 del nacimiento de Francis Bacon, la Tate Gallery de Londres ha inaugurado una retrospectiva de este pintor. Entre los meses de febrero y agosto la muestra viajará a los museos del Prado y al Metropolitan de Nueva York. Los 60 cuadros que serán expuestos permiten indagar sobre la vida y la obra de uno de los grandes pintores de todas las épocas. Pocos como Bacon - quizás ninguno - ha llevado tan lejos el tratamiento de la figura humana en la forma que este pintor lo ha hecho.

Habría que remontarse a las representaciones que los artistas medievales hacían de los condenados para acercarnos a las suyas. O podemos acudir a Goya como un antecedente. Para situarnos en el siglo XX, las mujeres de De Kooning, el ''Grito'' de Edward Munch, o ciertas obras de Chaim Soutine, de Van Gogh o los autorretratos de Artaud entre otros, pueden ubicarse a su lado. Pero nadie como Bacon realizó una visión tan escatológica del ser humano, abriéndole al mismo tiempo, un espacio para ser representado en la soledad y el sufrimiento. En su caso no podemos acusarlo de que lo hizo tomando la figura humana como un simple tema pictórico. Su vida de alcohólico y de homosexual sadomasoquista lo situó dentro de una realidad que él experimentó hasta la saciedad de los excesos, pues para Bacon los extremos se tocaban para desgarrarse entre sí.

Estamos prisioneros en nuestra piel dijo Wittgenstein en sus diarios. En el caso de Bacon podemos decir que éste encerró a la humanidad dentro de la piel de los cuerpos que él pintó. Ese permanente contacto suyo con las fuerzas elementales que emanan de la anatomía humana y animal lo convirtió de paso en un filósofo visual sin quererlo. Podemos a partir de sus cuadros especular toda una teoría acerca de la condición humana, partiendo de una ''lógica de la sensación'' como lo hiciera Gilles Deleuze en su libro sobre el pintor. En el mismo el pensador francés exploró las resonancias que pueden existir entre la filosofía y las artes visuales. Tomando ese concepto como punto de vista, Deleuze discute tres aspectos fundamentales de la pintura de Bacon: la figura, los espacios de color que la rodean y las estructuras que los separan. Esos tres aspectos aparecen claramente configurados en Bacon como parte de su dinámica pictórica. Veamos los tres por separado.

La figura: la atracción que posee el cuerpo humano para Bacon le brinda la ocasión para interpretarlo, de acuerdo con su visión de la existencia, como un acto límite. Es por eso que sus cuerpos van sufriendo toda suerte de distorsiones hasta llegar a ser irreconocibles. Bacon entonces actúa sobre los mismos como representando una especie de ritual frenético, cuyo sadismo hace palidecer a las coreografías sexuales del Marqués. Bacon se sintió influido por los experimentos fotográficos de Eadweard Muybridge, quien a finales del siglo XIX, realizara una serie de fotos de personas y animales sorprendidos en diversas posturas. Posiblemente pudo también sentirse atraído por los dibujos anatómicos del renacentista Andreas Vesalius. Por otra parte Velázquez le sirvió de modelo para interpretar sus retratos. La versión que el maestro español hiciera del papa Inocencio X fue objeto de una de las obras más emblemáticas de Bacon.

El color: contrario al tratamiento del color propio de los expresionistas, Bacon utilizó el suyo en forma plana, realzando su brillantez. El contraste que esto provoca con sus figuras retorcidas es notable. El color se extiende por el espacio de sus cuadros, creando zonas de intensas gamas, sin componer un contrapunto como lo hacen muchos expresionistas con el dramatismo de las figuras. De ese modo el color queda, sobre todo en los cuadros de su última época, como una especie de trasfondo donde podemos observar, si eliminamos las figuras de los mismos, una distribución constructivista del espacio.

La estructura: Bacon compone sus cuadros partiendo de un sentido espacial muy preciso. De esa forma coloca sus figuras dentro de compartimentos, semejantes muchos de ellos a grandes cajas de cristal. Esa manera suya de encerrar a sus personajes nos recuerda el juicio de Eichmann en Jerusalén, donde el famoso nazi permaneció dentro de un cubículo durante todo el proceso. También nos puede traer a la memoria la secuencia del filme Silence of the Lambs, seguramente inspirada en Bacon, cuando Hannibal Lecter tuvo que ser enjaulado en una gran cárcel de cristal en medio de un salón. Ambas escenas muestran una teatralidad que su pintura nos comunica a través de la gestualidad de muchas de sus mejores obras. Por otra parte y a la manera de los pintores medievales, Bacon gustaba de pintar trípticos como grandes retablos que reproducen variaciones sobre un tema determinado. Uno de éstos, basado en la crucifixión, llevó hasta el paroxismo de lo grotesco la representación de ese acontecimiento central de la cultura cristiana.

Baudelaire afirmó que el Romanticismo no consistía tanto en la verdad exacta como en la manera de sentir esa verdad. Bacon, que en el fondo pertenece a la tradición romántica, está interesado en capturar una verdad que le sirva para expresar un sentimiento ''agónico''. Cada uno de sus modelos que tuvieron en un momento dado existencia propia fueron sometidos a una interpretación delirante de la verdad que encarnaban. Fue de esa forma que Bacon logró crear imágenes que quedarán grabadas indeleblemente en la historia del arte.  





Francis Bacon: Space and Surface, symposium organised by Brian Hatton



Symposium 22/11/08 - 10.00 Architectural Association, 36 Bedford Square, London WC1B 3ES




                   Speakers at the symposium included: Andrew Brighton, James Cahill, Nigel Coates, Martin Hammer, John Maybury, Bob Maxwell & Brian Hatton.



To complement the Francis Bacon exhibition at Tate Britain, this symposium considers spatial and architectural aspects in Bacon's art. Bacon composed his pictures by risking spontaneous acts and chance effects of painting within carefully designed and projected spatial frameworks, often deploying traces of his early work in furniture and interior decoration.

This double aspect of Bacon's work has interested not only painters but also architects and filmmakers. Presentations will be made by: Andrew Brighton, James Cahill, Nigel Coates, Mark Cousins, Martin Hammer, Brian Hatton and John Maybury. The symposium will conclude with a roundtable discussion.

All welcome
No advance booking required

Please note: The AA Bar (1st Floor) will be open between 11.00 and 6.00 providing regular bar services.








Joel Cadbury seeks a Colony



It is the drinking den whose patrons have included such artists as Francis Bacon and Tracey Emin, but the Colony Room in Soho may be about to have a surprising new owner.



Richard Eden The Daily Telegraph 15 November 2008




Mandrake can disclose that Joel Cadbury, whose chocolate-producing ancestors were abstemious Quakers, is lining up a bid for the louche private members' club. "Joel has been approached about taking it over and is seriously considering it," says a friend of the 36-year-old son of Peter "the Cad" Cadbury. 


Joel, who is married to Divia Lalvani, the daughter of an Indian electronics tycoon, is a non-executive director the Groucho Club, the haunt of media and theatre professionals, which is next door to the Colony Room. 


Last year, Cadbury sold his Soho health and fitness club, The Third Space, to a management buyout team backed by private equity for £22 million. The deal came just over a year after he sold the Groucho to the same private-equity group, Graphite Capital, for £20 million.

The Colony Room was established 60 years ago to provide a refuge for members when the pubs closed. Earlier this year, Michael Wojas, the club secretary and chief barman, said he would close it when he retires in March because of the impact of the smoking ban, an expiring lease and a general downturn.





Art boom over as auctions fail to bring home Bacon



November 14, 2008


When a Francis Bacon triptych became the most expensive contemporary artwork sold at auction earlier this year it fuelled hopes that the art market might be credit-crunch proof.

Six months later the failure of another important Bacon work to attract a single bid at auction in New York has underlined what the leading auction houses have long feared and recently suspected: the art boom is over and it will not be back any time soon.

A sobering fortnight of big sales in New York ends this afternoon with little prospect of transactions totalling $1 billion (£676 million).

That might seem like an obscene sum of money to lavish on art in the midst of an economic crisis but it is well short of the auction houses’ own combined minimum estimate for the sales of $1.7 billion.

The fortnight included four star-studded evening sales of Impressionist and Modern and Contemporary and PostWar art, which traditionally set the tone for the art market over the next six months.

This year, despite the presence of John McEnroe, the tennis player, Salma Hayek and Steve Martin, the actors, Valentino, the fashion designer and various billionaire art collectors in the auction rooms, the four sales at Christie’s and Sotheby’s pulled in only $608.5 million, against a low estimate of $1.007 billion.

About a third of the works on offer failed to sell at all, including pieces by Picasso, Rothko, Manet, Monet, Modigliani, Matisse, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Warhol, Lichtenstein and Hirst, while many of those that did went for substantially less than the asking price.

Some records were set, brightening the gloom for the auction houses. Suprematist Composition by Kazimir Malevich, the Russian abstract pioneer, sold for $60 million and there were record prices for works by Munch and Degas among others.

Attention, however, was inevitably focused on the failures, notably the Bacon.

In May it was revealed that Roman Abramovich, the billionaire owner of Chelsea Football Club, was the mystery buyer of an $86.2 million Bacon triptych. Days earlier he paid $33.6 million for Benefits Supervisor Sleeping by Bacon’s old friend Lucian Freud.

This double splurge was seized on as evidence that the art market would weather the economic downturn thanks to stupendously wealthy collectors from Russia, China, India and the Middle East.

But those buyers were notably absent on Wednesday night when a 1964 self-portrait by Bacon, estimated by Christie’s at $40 million, failed to sell.

There were gasps in the hall when it was withdrawn from the sale.

The differing fortunes of the two Bacons reflect the seismic shifts in the global financial markets in the past two months, a connection summed up by the presence in Wednesday’s sale of 16 works, belonging to the family of Richard S. Fuld Jr, a former chief executive of Lehman Brothers, that Christie’s had guaranteed at $20 millon. The price estimates for these sales were set before the markets went into meltdown in September and European buyers were handicapped by the strengthening of the dollar.

As a result dealers, sellers, collectors and auctioneers emerged from the New York sales looking for the bottom of the market whereas not long ago they were trying to spot the peak. Ian Peck, chief executive of Art Capital Group, a merchant bank specialising in art world affairs, said: “It’s like the aftermath of a rugby match with everybody limping off the field. It’s a different universe compared to where we were six months ago.”

Marc Porter, president of Christie’s North and South America, said after the Wednesday evening sale: “The market is adjusting down.”

The New York sales followed a pattern set in significant recent auctions in London and Hong Kong.

The auction houses are the most obvious victims of the downturn. Christie’s and Sotheby’s both spent tens of millions buying lots whose prices they had guaranteed but which failed to sell. Sotheby’s share price has collapsed from more than $40 a year ago to just over $8 yesterday.

Robert Read, group fine art underwriter for Hiscox, the insurer, said that the auctions could have been much worse. “It’s no longer a champagne market,” he said. “Its more of a modest chablis, but it is still drinkable, still functioning.”





Upper East Side: Linger (Quietly) for a While




By KAREN ROSENBERG, The New York Times, November 13, 2008



Works by Francis Bacon, left, and Giacometti at the Gagosian Gallery show Isabel and Other Intimate Strangers.



Chelsea has been the undisputed center of the art market for the last decade, and the young and the new are concentrated below 14th Street. The Upper East Side will always have Museum Mile, but what do the galleries in this staid enclave have to offer?

Simply put, the Upper East Side is a quieter, more idiosyncratic art neighbourhood. Particularly in the cloistered townhouse galleries off Madison Avenue, you have the sense of walking into someone’s living room. Chelsea can make you feel rushed, herded from one concrete-floored box to the next; uptown the atmosphere is much more conducive to lingering. You will often be the only visitor in the gallery, even on a Saturday.

At the ever-expanding Gagosian, as at Acquavella, the artist-muse relationship inspires an exhibition worthy of the Museum of Modern Art. Isabel and Other Intimate Strangers: Portraits by Alberto Giacometti and Francis Bacon inaugurates the gallery’s new fourth-floor exhibition space. The show was organized by Véronique Wiesinger, the director of the Giacometti Foundation in Paris, and Martin Harrison, who is overseeing Bacon’s catalogue raisonné.

The woman singled out in the title is the model Isabel Rawsthorne, whose chiseled cheekbones inspired several paintings by Bacon and sculptures by Giacometti. Other captivating figures in the exhibition include Lucien Freud, in Bacon’s portraits, and Giacometti’s wife and mistress (in separate, and markedly different, paintings)





Francis Bacon portrait pulled from sale after failing to attract bids 



A Francis Bacon self-portrait was withdrawn half way though a Christie's auction in New York after bidding failed to take off. 



By Tom Leonard in New York, The Daily Telegraph, 13 November 2008


Study for Self Portrait, painted in 1964, was billed as the highlight of the contemporary art sale with an estimate of $40 million (£27 million).

However, when bidding dried up at $27.4 million, the sale was abruptly halted, prompting gasps of surprise in the auction room.

A Bacon triptych fetched $86 million – a record for the painter – at an auction in New York in May.

But the self portrait was among almost a third of works in the 75-lot sale that failed to find buyers. The auction brought in $113.6 million – half the pre-sale low estimate.

In keeping with other recent sales, the lots that did sell went for less than their estimate.

At Christie's, a collection of 16 drawings sold by Kathy and Richard Fuld, the controversial former chief executive of Lehman Brothers, brought in $13.5 million after being expected to fetch $20 million.

However, Christie's had promised the Fulds had an undisclosed sum regardless of the outcome of the sale. Mrs Fuld is a keen collector and the couple have kept most of their works.

The Christie's sale came a day after a similarly underwhelming New York auction at Sotheby's.

Prices at both sales were set earlier in the year before the financial crisis and are now considered far too high.



                                                              Study for Self Portrait 1964 Francis Bacon





Art market in shock as Christies calls halt to Francis Bacon sale




Anne Barrowclough, The Times, Thursday, November 13, 2008


A Francis Bacon self-portrait failed to sell at auction in New York last night, in a significant sign that the global financial tsunami is beginning to sweep over the international art market.

Bacon's 1964 Study for Self Portrait - billed as a highlight of Christie's contemporary art auction - was estimated to take in around $US40 million (£26.2 million). A Bacon triptych went under the hammer in New York last May for $86.2 million (£56.4 million), a record for the British painter and it was expected that the self portrait would fetch a similarly high price.

But when bidding reached $27.4 million (£179.3 million) the auction house dramatically halted the proceedings, to a chorus of gasps from a stunned audience.

Seventy-five contemporary works were on sale on Wednesday. Among the most important lots was a Jean-Michel Basquiat painter of a boxer, owned by Metallica co-founder and drummer Lars Ulrich, which fetched just over $13.5 million but short of the record $14.6 million for a Basquiat.

A chill had already entered the art market last month, when a rare portrait of Francis Bacon by Lucien Freud sold for £1.6 million less than expected, and the autumn season of art sales, which began on November 3, was being closely watched.

However in the fortnight since the autumn season began, there has been a big drop off of sales of impressionist, modern and contemporary works of art.

The number of unsold works has often exceeded 30 or 40 per cent of lots since November 3, and barring a few notable exceptions the sales prices are lower than the estimates for the majority of pieces.

Art sales were still high in the spring sale season earlier this year, with records set at Sotheby's and Christies' for works by Monet, whose Le Pont du chemin de fer a Argenteuil went for a record $41.4 million (£27.1 million) and Munch, whose Girls on a Bridge sold for $30.8 million (£20.2 million), a record for the artist.

The record sales were seen as a sign that the art market was protected from the deepening economic gloom.

At the time David Norman, chairman of Sotheby's impressionist and modern department, said the sales had displayed the "underpinnings of a really strong market that we believe is going to continue as long as we keep the estimates appealing to the consignors and choose the right property."

He added: "There is still so much liquidity and so many buyers from everywhere."

Such optimism has evaporated recently, and last night's sale will cast a further pall over the international market. Some experts say the fall in sales is due to the disappearance of hedge fund managers and Russian oligarchs from auction rooms.

But some of Francis Bacon's work still seem popular - at least within a certain market. His paintings of popes - of which there are just 40 in the world - are seen as a trophy by some collectors, according to Sarah Thornton, the author of Seven Days in the Art World.

"These paintings are of a very powerful man in purgatory, in like a free-fall into Hell," she told National Public Radio (NPR) in the US on Tuesday. "The popes look terrified. I think, oh my God, that must be what it's like to be a hedge fund manager right now."




                                                           Francis Bacon's self portrait failed to sell at a Christie's auction last night   





No buyer for a Bacon as New York art sale ends



By Christopher Michaud, Reuters, Thursday 13 November 2008


NEW YORK, Nov 13 (Reuters) - The fall New York art sales limped to a close on Wednesday, leaving a market bruised and bloodied but still standing.

Christie's post-war and contemporary auction took in $113.6 million, half a low pre-sale estimate of $227 million, with 68 percent of the lots on offer finding buyers.

The spotty sale was consistent with Impressionist, modern and contemporary art auctions at Christie's and rival over the past two weeks.

The result was "about as expected going in," said Amy Cappellazzo, international co-head of contemporary and post-war art at Christie's, given the turmoil gripping world financial markets for the past two months.

Despite high points including a nearly $15 million Richter, a $13.5 million Basquiat and new records for Joseph Cornell and Yayoi Kusama, the evening's star lot failed to sell.

Francis Bacon's Study for Self-Portrait had been estimated to go for $40 million or more, but no bid approached even $30 million. Bacons have seen huge price spikes in recent seasons, including a record $86 million.

"The market is continuing, but clearly at a different price level," Christie's president Marc Porter said.

"There's no panic in the market, but there is an adjustment," he told Reuters, contrasting that to the volatility gripping other markets such as oil or real estate.

"While it had declined, you've seen it find a stable level, with a lot of support."

Baird Ryan, managing director of the art-related financial services firm Art Capital Group, agreed with auction officials' contention that the two weeks of sales, while falling about one-third shy of estimates set before the financial crisis, showed there continues to be demand for fine art.


But Ryan noted that other markets had seen a fall-off of about 20 to 40 percent, "and that's what you're seeing here. There is a correction going on." He said auction houses will have to edit sales to offer "a selected group of works with cautious estimates."

Still it was impressive that "in such a period of remarkable financial stress you can sell over $100 million worth of art in an evening," Ryan added. "People are focused, and active."

Art expert and author Sarah Thornton, who chronicled several years spent infiltrating the art world for the book Seven Days in the Art World, said the sales "could have gone much worse."

"Given the state of the financial world, it's remarkable to see a group of people spending money the way they are," she said. "There are obviously some people who still have a lot of money to spend." (Editing by Mohammad Zargham)





Mixed Results for Contemporary Art Sale at Christie’s



By Carol Vogel, The New York Times, November 12, 2008


In a bumpy sale of contemporary art at Christie’s on Wednesday, some paintings, drawings and sculptures were eagerly sought, but there were also big disappointments as the art market struggled to adjust to today’s financial climate.

What was expected to be the star — a 1964 self-portrait by Francis Baon that was estimated at $40 million — went unsold without so much as a bid. But other works brought prices that surprised even Christie’s executives.

“In the beginning we thought we were witnessing a gravity-defying auction,” Edward Dolman, Christie’s chief executive, said after the sale. “But it was disappointing not to sell the Bacon. There were some good prices, but it’s inconsistent.”

The evening, dominated by American buyers, brought $113.6 million, well below its low estimate of $227 million. Of the 75 works on the block, nearly one-third failed to sell.

Some works that were considered overpriced sold — but for what buyers wanted to pay, not what the house had envisioned.

After the sale, dealers and collectors milled about trying to make sense of the results. “The auction house may not have done well,” said Allan Schwartzman, an art adviser, “but some collectors did.”





It all began with Freud and Bacon...



She's made a bestselling career examining the mores of suburbia, but as Shena Mackay admits, her literary life started in the fleshpots of Soho



Rachel Cooke, The Observer, Sunday November 9 2008


Mackay was born in 1944. Her father did a series of jobs, from miner to ship's purser, and was often away; his marriage to Mackay's mother was mostly unhappy. She wanted to be a writer early on, a poet preferably. 'It was through reading, and loving words. I could read when I was three.'

Shortly before she left school - the family was living in Blackheath by this time and Mackay was attending Kidbrooke comprehensive, which she hated - she won a Daily Mirror poetry competition, judged by the likes of Kathleen Raine. The prize was £25. 'It was a huge amount of money, but because I was leaving school [she left with two O-levels], I had to buy these boring clothes for my job as an office junior; it had to be squandered on pleated skirts and cardigans.'

The job didn't work out but, soon after, she got another one, working in an antique shop in Chancery Lane. This turned out to be life-changing, in its way. The shop was owned by the parents of David Sylvester, the art critic, with whom she later had an affair (he was the father of her daughter, Cecily Brown, the artist). The Sylvesters' son-in-law, playwright Frank Marcus, who is probably best known for The Killing of Sister George, worked there with her. It was Marcus who encouraged her to keep at the novel she had begun writing. 'He found me an agent. He had it typed out for me.'

David Sylvester, meanwhile, introduced her to every painter you care to think of, from Frank Auerbach to Jasper Johns. She would visit the Colony Room Club in Soho with him, for nights out with Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud. 'Yes, I did meet them, but I was a young girl and they were middle-aged.' But she realised how famous they were? 'Oh, yeah. I mean, I met Giacometti. I certainly realised who he was. Sometimes, the impression is given that I used to hang out in the Colony Room. But I didn't really. They were David's friends, not mine.

'Francis could be scary. He could either be lovely or spiteful - though he was never spiteful to me. He liked me, so that was all right. It was a great time and I loved it, but at a certain point, that kind of life becomes quite sad. I realised it was much more glamorous actually to have a real life.'





Art world's after-hours haunt, the Colony Room, may be saved from closure




November 8, 2008



The impending closure of the Colony Room, the Soho drinking den patronised by louche figures from the art world including Francis Bacon and Tracey Emin, may be averted after an intervention by English Heritage.

The advisory body is rushing through an inspection to determine whether the club, which has witnessed 60 years of booze-soaked misbehaviour by some of Britain's most creative drunks, merits listed status.

The club is under threat after Michael Wojas, its secretary and chief barman, said that he would close it when he retires in March. He claims that the lease is up, but members who wish to preserve the club are concerned that he may have surrendered the lease without consulting them.

If English Heritage is impressed, it will recommend to the Government that the club be listed as culturally important. The final decision rests with Barbara Follett, the Culture Minister.

Artists who are campaigning to keep the Colony Room open believe that listed status will help them to come to an arrangement with the landlord because it would be harder to redevelop the premises.

The club, a single-room venue founded to provide a refuge for members when the pubs closed, has also received the support of Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, who wrote an open letter this week to Simon Thurley, the head of English Heritage. “I hope that you would agree that it is important for London to preserve venues and collections that bring inspiration and artistic pleasure to local, national and international visitors,” he wrote.

English Heritage told The Times that the building must have architectural and historical merit on a national scale. “We are aware that there are development pressures on the building,” a spokeswoman said. “The application has been pushed towards the top of the pile to be considered. We are aware of the enthusiasm about the cultural relevance of the building, and the people who are associated with it.”

She said that an inspection would take place within a fortnight.

Rosemarie MacQueen, head of planning for Westminster City Council, said that if listed status were granted it would be an important consideration if the landlord attempted to change the building. “The Colony Room is basically a room with a staircase,” she said. “The real interest is 20th-century culture. If it is listed, that is the thing you're trying to protect. Any application for change of use would have to take that into consideration.”

The club has been a regular haunt for artists and musicians including Lucian Freud, Peter O'Toole, John Hurt, Sir Peter Blake, George Melly and Damien Hirst.

Mr Wojas did not respond to inquiries yesterday.





Boris Johnson moves to save the Colony



The FIRST POST, Wednesday November 5, 2008


London mayor Boris Johnson is attempting to save one of the city's seediest cultural landmarks, the Colony Room Club in Soho, which is currently under threat of closure. In a letter to the chairman of English Heritage, Simon Thurley, Johnson pledges his unequivocal support for the preservation of the drinking dive, once the haunt of the painter Francis Bacon and in more recent times Damien Hirst and his YBA (Young British Artists) cronies, and calls for it to be listed.

"I write to you in support of the campaign to prevent the iconic Colony Room Club from possible closure," writes Boris. "The Colony is a unique and important place for the capital both in terms of cultural and architectural significance. It represents an important part of part of London's post-war cultural heritage... I hope that you would agree that it is important for London to preserve venues and collections that bring inspiration and artistic pleasure to local, national and international visitors."

So why does it need saving? As reported here, the club's secretary and head barman, Michael Wojas, announced he was closing the club in March. It later transpired that Wojas had neglected to pay the rent on the premises for several months and recently, to the astonishment of everyone trying to save the place, he surrendered the lease to the landlord, an act which effectively signed the 60-year-old club’s death warrant.

In reaction to this, the members who want the club to survive - the Save The Colony Room Campaign - are attempting to oust Wojas and the committee that supports him at an annual general meeting today, a move they see as regrettable but essential if they are to have any chance of saving their beloved club from extinction.

"It's a desperate situation," says a member of the campaign team. "Michael Wojas will probably win the vote at the AGM because he has been ringing old members who know nothing about what he's been up to.

"What's unbelievable is that he maintains he's representing the interests of the members. By closing the club? By handing over the lease? By not paying the rent and flogging off the art works? I don't think so."

Ah, the art works. In September, Wojas put up for sale many of the Colony's artworks, raising some £40,000. This was allegedly to be his "pension pot". But the Save the Colony Room Campaign said that many of these were gifts to the club and so not Wojas's to sell, a claim supported by many of the donors. As a result of intense legal activity, the campaign managed to have the proceeds from the auction, held by the London firm Lyon and Turnbull, placed in an escrow account until true title of ownership had been established.







The Modern Age: The Collection of Alice Lawrence


5 - 6 November 2008
New York, Rockefeller Plaza


Lot 44/Sale 2255 Lucien Freud (b. 1922) Head of a Man



             Head of a Man 1966 Lucien Freud



Lot Description

Lucian Freud (b. 1922)
Head of a Man
signed and dated 'Lucian F 1966' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
18¼ x 15 3/8 in. (46.4 x 39.1 cm.)
Painted in 1966



$1,800,000 - $2,500,000

Price Realized

$1,800,000 - $2,500,000


Pre-Lot Text

The Collection of Alice Lawrence



Marlborough Gallery, London.
Mr. H. J. Renton, London
His sale; Sotheby's, London, 30 June 1988, lot 643.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.


London, Marlborough Gallery, Lucian Freud: Recent Work, 1968, no. 12 (titled George Dyer II).

Lot Notes

Painted in 1966, Head of a Man is one of only two oil portraits by Lucian Freud of George Dyer, the lover and companion of his friend and fellow artist Francis Bacon. The picture dates from a period when Freud and Bacon were seeing each other on an almost daily basis. Their friendship, which had been struck up during the 1940s following their introduction to each other by Graham Sutherland, was important to both men on a personal and an artistic level. Freud and Dyer featured in a great number of Bacon's paintings. However, Bacon and Dyer each appeared only in two of Freud's oils (his 1952 portrait of Bacon, formerly in the collection of the Tate, was stolen when on exhibition in London), making Head of a Man an extremely rare insight into their friendship.

Dyer has become one of the most legendary of Bacon's friends and companions; their relationship even inspired the 1998 film Love Is the Devil, starring Daniel Craig and Derek Jacobi. Bacon, himself an incorrigible spinner of exaggerated tales, claimed he had caught Dyer, a petty criminal, in the act when he attempted to break into the artist's home, and that this marked the beginning of their relationship. However, a more prosaic and more indicative explanation of their first meeting was included in Michael Peppiatt's biography of Bacon, who explained that in 1964:

I was drinking with John Deakin, who had just done some photographs for me, and lots of others. George was down the far end of the bar and he came over and said, You all seem to be having a good time. Can I buy you a drink?' And that's how I met him. I might never have noticed him otherwise (Bacon, quoted in M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London, 1999, p. 211).

Dyer had been brought up in a family that had a history of petty crime, and it was in this vocation that he attempted to make his way. He was caught often enough that he spent time first in borstals as a young offender and then in prison. There was a physical presence to the man that implied strength and violence, and this, along with his crooked nose, has been captured in Freud's Head of a Man, where the sheer bulk of head and shoulders are emphasised. This serves to highlight the sensitivity of the eyes and facial expression which, according to memoirs, were often in stark contrast to the gangster image that he tried to project, mimicking the style of figures such as the Kray twins in his sharp suits and thin ties.

From the point of Dyer's first acquaintance with Bacon, he was seldom out of his company, and came to figure in many of his paintings too. Now Dyer, no longer actively embroiled in the criminal fraternity that had formerly provided his milieu, was in the company of a celebrated artist and bon vivant, a situation that meant that he and his friends seldom lacked for alcohol or company. Bacon's own recollections about Dyer provide some insight into the paradoxes and complexities of the man who tragically took his own life on the eve of the painter's 1971 retrospective in Paris:

His stealing at least gave him a raison d'être, even though he wasn't very successful at it and was always in and out of prison. But it gave him something to think about. When George was inside, he'd spend all his time planning what he would do when he came out. And so on. I thought I was helping him when I took him out of that life. I knew the next time he was caught he'd get a heavy sentence. And I thought, well, life's too short to spend half of it in prison. But I was wrong, of course. He'd have been in and out of prison, but at least he'd have been alive. He became totally impossible with drink. The rest of the time, when he was sober, he could be terribly engaging and gentle. He used to love being with children and animals. I think he was a nicer person than me. He was more compassionate. He was much too nice to be a crook. That was the trouble. He only went in for stealing because he had been born into it (Bacon, quoted in David Sylvester, Looking back at Francis Bacon, London, 2000, p. 135).

The strange tension between Dyer's criminality and his gentle, tender side is in evidence in Head of a Man.

In Head of a Man, even the brushwork owed its existence in part to the artistic relationship between Bacon and Freud. When they had first met, and indeed into the 1950s, Freud had painted in a meticulous style, usually seated at his easel, using extremely fine sable-hair brushes. It was with some justification that Herbert Read had referred to him as the "Ingres of Existentialism." However, in the early 1950s, in part through a feeling of the constraints of that style and influenced by Bacon's own handling of paint, Freud began to use larger brushes, standing behind his easel, allowing him more movement, more gesture, and therefore resulting in pictures that were more painterly, as is the case in Head of a Man. "His work impressed me but his personality affected me," Freud has explained of his relationship to Bacon.

It was through that and through talking to him a lot. He talked a great deal about the paint itself carrying the form, and imbuing the paint with a sort of life. He talked about packing a lot of things into one single brushstroke, which amused and excited me and I realized it was a million miles from anything I could ever do (Freud, quoted in W. Feaver, Lucian Freud, New York, 2007, p. 321).

Within a short time, Freud had developed the virtuoso painterly style for which he is so famed, and which is clear in the almost organic way that he has built up the sense of flesh in Dyer's features in Head of a Man. There is a pulsing impression of life, of vitality in the oils in this picture, that demonstrates his insistence that, "I would wish my portraits to be of the people, not like them. Not having a look of the sitter, being them. I didn't want to get just a likeness like a mimic, but to portray them, like an actor. As far as I am concerned the paint is the person. I want it to work for me just as flesh does" (Freud, quoted in L. Gowing, Lucian Freud, London, 1982, pp. 190-91). It is for this reason that Freud continues to focus, in his portraiture, on those people who form a part of his family or his circle, people whom he knows and who can relax in front of him, while being scrutinized by him, for long enough for the painting to be complete.

This sense of life, captured in oils, perhaps reveals some artistic cousinship between Freud and the seventeenth-century Dutch painter Frans Hals. Discussing Hals, Freud celebrated that vivid sense of life that he managed to capture in his laughing cavaliers, banqueters and revelers:

They still shock people very much. I remember Francis had a friend called George (Dyer) who had never looked at any painting in his life. He'd been a sort of lookout man, a very bad one, and he saw a book of Hals, he looked at it and his face absolutely lit up. He said what a marvelous idea making people look like that. He thought they were modern. That's right really. I mean they are all talking, eating, grinning - I think of Shakespeare a bit - done from a kind of detached (and not all that detached) wit and observation" (Freud, quoted in Feaver, op.cit., 2007, p. 322).

In Head of a Man, while Dyer may not be talking, eating or grinning, Freud has nonetheless captured a similarly vivid sense of his subject's life and character.





Top 100 Treasures


Roberta Maneker, Art & Antiques, November 2008


If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then where does value lie? Ask the child who tucks away a seashell as a souvenir of summer; or the flea market hunter-gatherer who pays a pittance for antique pottery others are ignoring; or the mutual fund manager who knows a stock’s worth can change by the hour; or the Russian billionaire who has just plunked down more than $80 million for a must-have trio of Francis Bacon’s exquisite, anguished-expressionist canvases. Value is in the eyes, hearts and minds of those who recognize and create it. While often measured in dollars or rubles or euro or yen, in the art market, at least, it’s this ineffable sense of the kind of appreciation certain objects deserve that helps transform price-tagged objects into inestimable, ever-more-desirable treasures.


2: Bringing Home the Bacon

The Francis Bacon market is exploding. In 2007 alone, Bacon works at auction brought more than $250 million. In May his monumental Triptych, 1976, painted in muted, if not lugubrious tones, became the most expensive work of contemporary art sold publicly, bringing $86.3 million. It might, however, be a bargain per square inch: Each panel measures approximately a staggering 6 by 5 feet. Sotheby’s announced a European private buyer, but other sources named London-based Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.
— R.M.







Les sublimes tortures de Bacon


Les Échos, France, Lundi 3 Novembre 2008


Rendez-vous à Londres pour découvrir les aspects méconnus d'un peintre de génie et de tourments.

A la Tate Britain,

jusqu'au 4 janvier.

tél. :




Faire sienne l'histoire de l'art pour être capable de créer une nouvelle peinture... Tout comme Picasso, Francis Bacon (1909-1992) puisa dans le répertoire classique de la peinture. Mais, contrairement à son aîné espagnol, l'Irlandais de Londres s'intéressait plutôt aux reproductions des oeuvres, comme s'il redoutait la puissance du contact avec la toile. Jusqu'au 4 janvier, la Tate Britain le montre sous un jour inédit. Une rétrospective magistrale qui met en exergue des toiles moins connues et les dernières recherches issues de l'étude de son lieu de travail.


Une des grandes obsessions de Bacon est une reproduction qu'il possédait en plusieurs exemplaires du pape Innocent X, peint par Vélasquez en 1650, aujourd'hui conservé à la galerie Doria Pamphilij de Rome. Selon l'ami du peintre et historien Michael Peppiatt, Bacon a peint pas moins de 45 Papes entre 1949 et 1971. Mais il n'a jamais cherché à voir la toile de Vélasquez, même lors de son passage à Rome.

Dévoreur de photographies

En homme du XXe siècle, il était un dévoreur de photographies. Les images jonchaient le sol de son atelier de Londres. C'est cette matière première assemblée par une sensibilité tourmentée, agrémentée d'un sens des couleurs hors du commun - il avait exercé dans sa jeunesse le métier de décorateur -, qui donne corps à l'oeuvre de Francis Bacon.


A la Tate Britain, l'espace a été divisé en thématiques pour ouvrir les yeux du spectateur sur des points clefs de son langage. La première abordée, celle de l'animal, est un leitmotiv dans sa création. Montrer l'aspect le plus sauvage de l'être humain, c'est produire des corps torturés et tordus, des visages déformés par des cris infinis. En 1944, il crée Trois études pour personnages de la crucifixion reconnues comme son premier chef-d'oeuvre. Sur un fond orange, un être surréaliste en gris dont émerge un cou tendu et une énorme bouche. Le catalogue de l'exposition explique que cette imagerie de l'homme bestial est puisée dans un fonds de photos qui est disposé dans le studio de l'artiste et qui mélange des reproductions de Vélasquez, Grünewald, Rodin et aussi des photos de leaders nazis comme Joseph Goebbels en train de discourir.


Une des caractéristiques fortes de la peinture de Bacon consiste aussi à circonscrire un champ de vision au sein de la toile. C'est au sujet de cette « zone » qu'est consacrée une partie de l'exposition. Etude de chien  de 1952 est une toile dépouillée au centre de laquelle figure l'animal. Il est dans un cercle délimité par une ligne verte, lui-même situé dans un polygone bordé de orange. Bacon explique qu'il a puisé l'idée de zone dans son expérience de décorateur et qu'elle permet d'extraire le sujet de son environnement naturel.

Etudes et soirs d'ivresse

Crucifixion : voilà un thème prisé par le peintre masochiste. De la viande, du sang, de la douleur... une véritable boucherie, comme dans les « Trois études pour une crucifixion » de 1962. L'ensemble est saturé de teintes fortes mises au service du drame. Le sol est orange, les murs rouges en contraste avec des formes géométriques noires. Les études faites autour de cette peinture, réalisée un soir de désespoir et d'ivresse, montrent l'influence des  Demoiselles d'Avignon, de Picasso, du crucifix de Cimabue à l'église Santa Croce de Florence, mais aussi d'une photo de Mussolini pendu par les pieds, prise après sa mort.


Une salle entière de la Tate Britain explique comment le peintre fait usage des images. L'étude du mouvement en photographie par Muybridge à la fin du XIXe siècle se retrouve dans sa peinture, tout comme un portrait photo d'Isabel Rawsthorne debout dans une rue de Soho dont le visage va être consciencieusement déformé et replacé au sein d'une sorte d'arène cerclée de bleu roi. En 1981, Bacon écrivait à l'écrivain français Michel Leiris : « Nous sommes forcés d'inventer des méthodes par lesquelles la réalité peut prendre le dessus sur notre système nerveux d'une manière nouvelle qui permette néanmoins de ne pas perdre la vision objective du modèle. »





Own a Francis Bacon? We’ll Pay You $$!


Sotheby’s, lender of last resort.


Alexandra Peers, New York Magazine, November 2, 2008


One art-world business is booming: collectors looking to borrow against works they own, especially before the fall sales threaten to lower values. “We’ve been contacted by lots of people who are feeling some sort of margin call,” says Sotheby’s CEO, Bill Ruprecht. Other lenders have virtually stopped lending against art recently, but Ruprecht says Sotheby’s is still “very comfortable” doing so. (At 2007’s end, the auction house had $176.4 million loaned out; by the middle of this year, it was $212 million.)

Tobias Meyer, who runs the contemporary-art department, says he’s also seeing more “consignment advances”—sellers agreeing to put their art on the block and getting some money up front. But he’s also finding owners disappointed by their holdings’ worth. “Just because we sold a great, rare $80 million Francis Bacon, everyone with a Bacon thinks theirs is worth $40 million,” he says. “It doesn’t work that way.”





Francis Bacon, Tate Britain, London






Francis Bacon is presented, in his third Tate Britain retrospective, as a straightforwardly thematic painter: the exhibition’s ten chronologically-arranged rooms consistently refer the viewer to the Cold War, World War 2, the illegality of homosexuality, the decline of organised religion.  Although Bacon regularly objected to any narrative readings of individual paintings, he becomes here the story of the twentieth century.  It is a stultifying narrative and it represses the strangeness of the paintings, replacing them with a story which could be applied to many of his contemporaries.

The most shocking painting in the exhibition, and one which confounds its narrative, is his wild, luridly expressionist study of Van Gogh, who appears as a conventional figure in a landscape in a painting based on Van Gogh’s ‘The Painter on the Road to Tarascon’ (a painting destroyed in the bombing of Dresden).  Its meshing of colours, its absence of a contrasted overlaid commentary or of cut-up, delineated spaces make it seem more like the work of a contemporary like Sydney Nolan. It is also the show’s one variation on Bacon’s basic, aggressive and confrontational style.

Elsewhere the exhibition covers familiar ground: the brilliant glaring orange spaces in which his triptychs play out, the way he consistently isolates his ‘sitters’ on a chair or stool or toilet bowl. Lenin wrote that ‘the future of aesthetics will be ethics’, but Bacon refuses this dictum, taking the abstract aesthetic patterns of arcs and circles from Kandinsky and Matisse and plastering them with fleshy wounds: the symmetries remain but Bacon’s flashy colours make it hard to look away from his often grotesque subjects. Sometimes Bacon rubs our noses in his aestheticism, but there is sentiment and even pathos in some of the paintings of George Dyer. In one, he cycles a bike, his face a mask as the wheel wobbles away from its skeletal frame. But Bacon explodes this mildly comical scene by  sprouting from his head, in a whirl of pinks, a calm all-seeing eye, granting his subject a vantage point for once.

Bacon’s interest in TS Eliot’s early satires and in Aeschylus’s Furies is documented in the notes to the paintings, but their regular focus on a single orifice may have another, more contemporary literary source. The early work’s insistence on the mouth as its central still and clarifying image responds to WH Auden’s definition of his art as ‘a way of happening, a mouth’. In the later work, the mouth is displaced by meaty, bacony twists of flesh and by the bright red arrows he aimed at his subjects. The most impressive of these familiar paintings are the triptychs for, again, George Dyer whose crude shadows and spilled flesh act as a powerful elegy for Bacon’s partner.

The show has its moments but does not add much, or detract from, Bacon’s reputation. It is also disappointingly silent on Bacon’s artistic context and future. It does include a room devoted to Eadweard Muybridge’s early photographs, but Bacon’s kinetic manipulation and juxtaposition of these sequential frames is a well-known story.  Maybe Bacon’s work is too narrow and limited, but there are signs here that he could be usefully seen in the swim of the art of his time, in relation to the abstract painters whose work he professed to loathe, to David Hockney’s post-photographic work, or to the collage which his Britart successors use to follow his example in shocking their public.











                                       (September 2008-January 2009)





Francis Bacon has been regarded as one of the most important artists of the Twentieth Century and even now his work does not cease to produce questions, reactions and controversy. The retrospective of his work at Tate Britain provides a unique opportunity to grasp at the power of his oeuvre and to experience the fascination that it exerts on the viewer. Bacon’s experiences were shaped by the whole Twentieth Century: he was born on October 28,1909 in Dublin, and he was brought up in the shadow of the First World War, he also witnessed the horrors of the Second World War. The experiences of these two wars, and the subsequent changes in the world during the century, may explain the most common reactions to his work: the violence, the horror, and the brutal. For many, Bacon’s work conveys all these adjectives; however, his work is more complex than a first sight of his paintings may show.

For the spectator, the sensation of being shocked, marvelled or horrified is part of the fascination exerted by Bacon’s paintings. As the artist stated, his intention was to make an impact on ‘the nervous system more violently and more poignantly’2, and he used the human figure as the main weapon for his mission. Although Bacon did not attend any formal education, his genius developed by following some of the most important trends of the earlier Twentieth Century: the work of Picasso and the Surrealists. His own life is the big canvass of emotions, experiences, pain and enjoyment, and although he would prefer that we separate his paintings from his personal life, it is undeniable that his work conveys the emotions of the modern man: the anxiety and the pleasure, the question of life and the presence of death, and the co-existing forces of Eros and Thanatos.

The exhibition is organised in ten rooms, covering certain historical periods in his work. In doing so, the curators aimed to show some echoes and dialogues amongst his paintings. Since Bacon was a fierce critique of his own work and he is famous for the amount of work that he destroyed when unpleased with it, hence, very few paintings from the earlier period (stemming from the 1930s) are exhibited here. Some of the survival paintings of his earlier period are grouped in the first room, titled Animal. Bacon’s concern with the bestial nature of human beings is largely explored in this first group of paintings painted during the 1940s: the scream, the pain and the convulsions of the flesh. In particular, the series of ‘Heads’ announce the seeds of further developments in Bacon’s work. For example, in Head I, the emphasis is put on the corporeity of the ‘head’, while only the open mouth with the carefully painted teeth suggests the singularity of a deaf scream.

As noted by Chris Stephens, one of the curators of the exhibition, in the Heads (Head I and Head II) ‘these details add a disquieting reminder of the figure’s humanity while the contrast of their stillness with the dynamism of the mouth makes it seem as if the figure is possessed, taken over by this animal force’ (Stephens, 2008: 94). However, it is not very clear if the figure is screaming or gasping for air, and here Bacon in his conversations with David Sylvester revealed his original intentions: “I wanted to paint the scream more than the horror.” The anxiety of the scream, the threshold between the sound and the total deafness of this gesture, and the conveyance of internal forces governing the flesh became common topics in Bacon’s future works. For Deleuze, the scream in Bacon establishes a relationship between the visibility of the scream (the open mouth as a shadowy abyss) and invisible forces, which are nothing other than the forces of the future (2003: 43).

In this group of paintings some of the most important elements in Bacon’s language start to appear. In particular, the Painting 1946, can be considered as the prototype for further developments in Bacon’s work: here a dominant male figure emerges, black tie and coat, yet, only his mouth in the gesture of the scream is carefully revealed. His physical features are crowned by an umbrella – the suggestion of a big bird with black wings – and the Figure is flanked by a couple of fleshy carcasses part bone, part dead meat in brilliant tones. The Figure is sustained by a tubular structure, and it stands out in a bright field of pink colour. It is said that Bacon based his Figure on some pictures of Nazi leaders, and the thick neck suggest the gestures of Mussolini. Nevertheless, Bacon wished to distance himself from the specificity of the Nazi references to something more universal in which the sense of threat and brutality had been distilled (Stephens, 2008: 92).

The image of authoritarian figures and leaders inspired many of Bacon’s paintings. In this room we can appreciate an early interpretation of Velázquez’s painting of the Pope Innocent X, titled Head VI (1949). As noted by Peppiatt: ‘in paraphrasing the Velázquez portrait, Bacon strikes not only at the highest personification of spiritual power, but also at the grandeur of the Western tradition of art’ (1996: 64). His poignant reinterpretation of Velázquez’s Pope can be also understood in relation to the influence of the surrealist spirit in transforming pieces of art, such as Duchamp’s moustache on Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa thereby situating Bacon’s screaming Pope. Other explanations can be drawn from his difficult relationship with his father (Pope or Papa-Dad) or his disdain for the catholic religion.

The point here is to appreciate how Bacon’s painting of the Pope explores the depths of authority and leadership. Whereas in Velázquez’s painting the Pope appeared both regal, serene and cruel, Bacon’s explored the isolation conferred by his authority. By confining the Figure within the limits of a chair, and surrounded by a shuttered wall, a curtain, or a white parallelepiped, the Pope is isolated and somehow incarcerated. The Pope’s fists cling recklessly to the chair and this produces a sensation of both frailty and contained anger, while his screaming mouth oscillates between the agony and the fury. As developed by Deleuze: “Innocent X screams, but he screams behind the curtain, not only as someone who can no longer be seen, but as someone who cannot see, who has nothing left to see, whose only remaining function is to render visible these invisible forces that are making him scream, these powers of the future.” (Deleuze, 2003: 42)

In the view of his contemporaries, Bacon’s use of religious symbolism and the exploration of the human figure contradicted the artistic tendency toward abstractionism and conceptual art. While artists around the world were engaged in the exploration of abstract art – in particular the Abstract Expressionism and the playful potentialities of the Pop Art – Bacon followed a different route. He broke with figuration, but at the same time, he used the figure to accomplish his aim. His work “it is not impressionism, not expressionism, not symbolism, not cubism, not abstraction (…) Never (except perhaps in the case of Michelangelo) has anyone broken with figuration by elevating the Figure to such prominence.” (Deleuze, 2003: xiv)

During the 1950s and 1960s, Bacon had completed the basic elements in his work: (1) the Figure, not as narration or illustration, but as a Figure in motion, or transformation; (2) the place in which the Figure is located, normally a chair, a ring or inside a geometrical figure of ice; (3) and the field of colour (Deleuze, 2003). These pictorial elements aim to stretch the Figure toward more sensational (in terms of heightened sensations) effects while avoiding the ‘representation’ or the ‘description’ of an scene or an event. As Bacon remarked: “A picture should be a re-creation of an event rather than an illustration of an object: but there is no tension in the figure unless there is the struggle with the object.”3 The second room in the exhibition is called Zone and a number of examples concerning the creation of fields, places and figures as ‘matters of fact’ (using Deleuze’s words) are presented here.

By the 1950s Bacon’s work developed in amidst his hectic life and sexual explorations around London during the postwar years. The next room in the exhibition refers to this feeling as Apprehension: a number of paintings and studies for Figures, amongst them the series of the “Man in Blue”. These men are dressed as ‘executives’ or ‘business men’ although they look anonymous and innocuous. For example, in the Man in Blue IV the figure seems to sink in the depths of darkness and obscurity. Like the Popes, the businessmen are depicted as figures of authority, yet vulnerable and solitary (Stephens, 2008: 122).

Bacon’s obsession with religion and authority appears intermittently in his paintings. The series of Crucifixions reveal the many ways in which the artist approached this classic theme. He was not attempting to re-create a religious message, nor was he interested in challenging it. For Bacon, the crucifixion can be understood as an act of violence; and it is related to his concern about the bestiality of human beings. He developed his crucifixions by focusing on the fleshy characteristics of the subject. As he asserted, “Well, of course, we are meat, 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’4. For many, the reference to the Crucifixion can be understood within the context of the Second World War and the Holocaust. Notwithstanding, the first painting of the Crucifixion came from the earlier period of the painter and it was this painting which put Bacon in the map of artists in Britain.5.

Almost ten years later, the same topic is depicted in the Triptych format, also exhibited in this retrospective. Here we find the famous: Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944) which is one of the jewels owned by the Tate Gallery (normally exhibited at Tate Modern on the Southbank). It consists of three paintings connected by a bright field painted in orange. On the central panel there is this ambiguous form, like an embryo, from which only an opened mouth appears – savaging and devouring – covered by a blanket (it looks more like a phallic figure – maybe a penis dentata?) in an orange background limited by angles. Because of the date of this painting, the second version of the Crucifixion has been linked to the horrors of the holocaust as an apocalyptic vision of the world although heavily influenced by the political responsibility of the artist illustrated by Picasso’s Guernica (exhibited in London in 1938). Guernica showed how the formal language of modernism could frame a response to contemporary events (Gale, 2008: 139). Bacon’s Three Studies for Figures at the Base of Crucifixion goes beyond the depiction of a single episode by denouncing the ongoing nightmare.

Further versions of the Crucifixion are produced in 1962 and 1965. In Three Studies for A crucifixion (1962), and Crucifixion (1965), the main elements of Bacon’s language reached their maturity: the format of the triptych; the treatment, dissection and isolation of the figure; and the large fields of colour. In Deleuze’s brilliant analysis of Bacon’s work, these are the three fundamental elements in his painting: “the material structure, the round contour and the raised image. If we think in sculptural terms, we would have to say: the armature; the pedestal, which would be mobile; and the Figure, which would move along the armature together with the pedestal.” (Deleuze, 2003: 4).

These paintings became Bacon’s platform as a recognised artist and then his life changed. From living on a sort of roller coaster, hardly making means to meet ends (and yet indulging in drinks, parties and gambling), he found himself with a disposable income. Immersed in the chaotic relationship with his lover Peter Lacy, he travelled around Europe and North Africa engaging in compulsive gambling in cities such as Monte Carlo while trying to paint under different lights either in Tangier or in the South of France. Different experiments marked this period: coupled figures, interpretations of Van Gogh’s paintings and more expressive and colourful paintings are grouped in the exhibition in the room titled Crisis. Although in this new situation he was able to afford bigger premises, he kept the smaller atelier at the Reece Mews (London) as his favourite place for painting. An interesting feature of this exhibition is the ‘archaeology’ of his studio in which many objects, pictures, photographs and books may help to re-construct the creative laboratory of the artist. Amongst the objects shown in the ‘Archive’ room were: magazines with photographs of Nazi leaders; a medical document about mouth diseases; the studies of Muybridge’s The Human Figure in Motion; books with reproductions of his admired Velázquez; plentiful pictures from newspapers, sport magazines; and photos of friends, lovers and models.

Bacon relied on reproductions and pictures as the first step for most of his paintings. For instance, in the portraits of friends he preferred to rely on the picture rather than painting directly from the model. For him, photography has taken over the illustrative and documentary role so that modern painting no longer needs to fulfil this function. The challenge consists of extracting the Figure from the figurative and to overcome the descriptive or illustrative aspects of painting. He insisted on the fact that his paintings were not describing violent acts, neither were they trying to tell a story. Instead, what Bacon aimed was to convey the emotion behind the act, the horror prior to the scream, the convulsion of the body in anticipation of the movement.

To this aim, the combination of the three mentioned elements in Bacon’s paintings make sense: the large fields as a spatializing material structure; the Figure, the Figures and their fact; and the place – that is the round area, the ring, or the contour which is the common limit of the Figure and the field. Within the round area, the Figure is sitting on a chair, lying on the bed and sometimes it evens seems to be waiting for what is about to happen. But what is happening, or is about to happen, or has already happened is not a spectacle or a representation (Deleuze, 2003: 9). By isolating the Figure, Bacon attempted to condense the movement, the impulse and the emotion even before their materialisation. As argued by Deleuze: “the Figure is the sensible form related to a sensation; it acts immediately upon the nervous system, which is of the flesh, whereas abstract form is addressed to the head, and acts through the intermediary of the brain, which is closer to the bone” (p. 10). This complex mechanism may explain why Bacon’s painting impacts directly on our ‘nervous system’ and thus the conflicting sensations of agony and pleasure, anguish and convulsion, coexisting in the experience of seeing his paintings.

In the last rooms of the exhibition the dramatism of Bacon’s pictorial language appears more clearly. In the room called Epic, the format of the triptych reaches exquisite powers since the figures express drama, tragedy, and in some cases, abandon and pleasure. Furthermore, in the series of Portraits, Bacon aimed to reinvent portraiture in the age of the camera; he sought ‘to distort the thing far beyond the appearance, but in the distortion to bring it back to a recording of the appearance’6. The portraits of his friend, Isabelle Rawsthorne, convey the vision of a strong woman with a huge personality and charisma. As explained by Chris Stephens, the idea that an individual might be used by Bacon as the vehicle for certain aspects of the human condition seems especially evident in the paintings of George Dyer. Dyer, who became Bacon’s lover in 1963, had strong masculine features as his attire resembled that of a ‘gangster’ in East End London. In contrast, Bacon’s numerous portraits of Dyer suggest a fragile and sometimes comical individual. In the Portrait of George Dyer Riding a Bicycle (1966), the figure is silhouetted in fair depiction of the model and although the physical features of the face are distorted, the viewer can see the absurdity of his situation: riding in circles, heading for nowhere, chasing a shadow… unfortunately, this painting somehow anticipates Dyer’s tragic end.

By that time, Bacon had reached worldwide fame reinforced by the Retrospective at the Grand Palais of Arts in Paris in 1971. Ten years earlier, the exhibition of his work at Tate Gallery elevated Bacon as one of the most important British artists and this exhibition in Paris expanded his success. This was, however, a year of contrasts: in April his mother died in South Africa and another tragedy was looming over him. The evening before the triumphal exhibition at the Grand Palais while Bacon was busy with preparations – hanging paintings and sorting out the details of the night in which the President of France would open the ceremony – George Dyer committed suicide and his body was found in the room that he and Bacon shared. Not surprisingly, the events impacted Bacon deeply. As a way of grieving, Bacon embarked on a number of triptychs collected in the room Memorial. Amongst them, the Triptych in Memory of George Dyer (1971) brings to mind the scene of Dyer’s death: on the central panel a man opens a door, the key is just being removed from the keyhole, it is late at night as evidenced by a solitary light bulb at the top of the staircase; on the floor the cryptic typos of a newspaper sink into the strong red blood colour of the field. The rest of the canvas is painted in bright colours of lilac and pink which relate to the fields in the other two panels.

On the left panel, the convulsive yet athletic figure of a man lingers alongside a curve, a shadow pending on his existence. Bacon has often said that in the domain of the Figures, the shadow has as much presence as the body; but the shadow acquires this presence only because it escapes from the body. The shadow is the body that has escaped form through some localised point in the contour (Deleuze, 2003: 12). On the right panel, it is the figure of Dyer in a thick mirror, on the reflecting pair, the drop of life spilling carefully on the canvas. The use of mirrors represents another of the pictorial elements in Bacon’s work. As observed by Deleuze: “Bacon’s mirrors can be anything you like – except a reflecting surface. The mirror is an opaque and sometimes black thickness. Bacon does not experience the mirror in the same way as Lewis Carroll. The body enters the mirror and lodges itself inside it, itself and its shadow. Hence the fascination: nothing is behind the mirror, everything is inside. The body seems to elongate, flatten, or stretch itself out in the mirror, just as it contracted itself by going through the hole (Deleuze, 2003: 13).”

In general, the series of triptychs in the Memorial room are both haunting and remarkable. The fields of colours, the void of obscurity, the body in movement (in anticipation of death or pleasure), the shadows and the living flesh produces a long-lasting effect in the viewer. For instance, in Triptych May-June 1973 the treatment of the figure reveals Bacon’s heightened artistic powers. In this triptych, it is possible to imagine the last moments in Dyer’s life: the agonic figure crawling to the bathroom, clinging to the toilet, devoured by the dark void of death. The Figure is moving, yet it is fixed in a point; there is emotion, but there is also agony. The body is the focal point, but as in all his work, brushing or scrubbing deforms the features so the tones are subtle and alive. As argued by Deleuze, Bacon’s Figures represent one of the most marvellous responses in the history of painting to the question: ‘How can one make invisible forces visible? (…) Bodies and heads in Bacon’ paintings can look as deformations but they are not tortures, despite appearances. On the contrary, they are the most natural postures of a body that has been reorganised by the simple force being exerted upon it: the desire to sleep, to vomit, to turnover, to remain seated as long as possible.” (Deleuze, 2003: 42-43)

After almost eight decades of life, Bacon’s late paintings return to the common themes: new interpretations of the crucifixion such as the Second Version of Triptych 1944 (1988), as well as a number of self-portraits. A general refinement of composition and expression is evident in the late paintings (Tant, 2008: 231). Getting to the end of the exhibition, I feel both isolated and stimulated. In fact, this is my third view of Bacon’s work. The first time was in March 2001 in the Netherlands when a small collection of his work was presented at the Gemeentenmuseum in The Hague where I made notes and drawings from this first encounter that I still keep. Whereas in The Hague I was fascinated with the colours and the effects of the skin, the movement and the passion; in London, I have been impressed by the complexity and depth of his work: the subtle qualities of movement, the dramatic scenes, his experience of war and the ambiguous sensations of pleasure and horror.

What is really remarkable about this exhibition is the opportunity to experience the power of Bacon’s imagery and the innovations of his treatment of the Figure. This Retrospective is the opportunity to go beyond appearances and prejudices, to embark into a solitary journey of reflection and sensation: to scream in silence, to agonise in joy, to vibrate in colours whilst touching the void, to live at the brink of a disaster. Although Bacon’s life and work referred to the last century, echoes of his paintings are still relevant today.

As Kenneth Clarke describes, he is ‘the interpreter of our contemporary nightmare’7. Bacon’s reminder of the ubiquitous disaster – evidenced in the latest worldwide financial crisis – of the horrors of human actions in a world without hope but driven by religious fundamentalism are ever-present in the works exhibited in this retrospective and demonstrate the perpetual power and relevance of his paintings. Although this review is a futile attempt to bring all the grandiosity of Bacon’s work together, it provides an invitation to forget everything you read and experience, this wonderful Retrospective


Deleuze, Giles (2003) Francis Bacon. Original Title: Francis Bacon: Logique de la Sensation. Translation by Daniel W. Smith. Continuum: London

Gale, Matthew and Stephens, Chris (Editors) (2008) Francis Bacon. Catalogue Exhibition, Tate Publishing: London

Sylvester, David (1993) Interviews with Francis Bacon. London, 1975. Enlarged 1980, revised as “The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon” 1990, 4th Ed. As “Interviews with Francis Bacon”, 1993 Thames and Hudson: London

Peppiatt, Michael (1998) Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma. The Orion Publishing Group: London




                                         Study after Velazquez, 1950






Bacon in close focus



Rebecca Daniels praises the curators' discriminating selection of works in Tate's impressive Bacon exhibition.





Despite claims that the Tate's Francis Bacon exhibition is the biggest retrospective of him ever staged, it is, in fact, substantially smaller than the gallery's 1985 show. However, the decision to be more selective has resulted in a very high-quality exhibition. It is really a celebration of Bacon's larger paintings and the few smaller works included, such as Study for Head of George Dyer (1967; private collection), tend to be over-shadowed. The focus on large-scale works is justified given the crowds likely to flock to this show and the paintings have been generously spaced, maximising the chances for an unimpaired view of them.

This is particularly apparent in the opening room, which is hung with only seven works, introducing the paintings that Bacon completed after Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (around 1944; Tate). The absence of that seminal work from Room 1 (it is included in a later room devoted to the Crucifixion) prevents the viewer from appreciating it as Bacon subsequently intended: he made clear that it was the painting that launched his career and anything he completed prior to it should be destroyed. Also missing, undoubtedly due to its fragile condition, is Painting 1946 (1946; Museum of Modern Art, New York), a work that held a lifelong importance for Bacon. These exclusions from Room I highlight the fact that this is the first exhibition held here since Bacon died and, without the control he exercised over the previous Tate show, the curators have had a new freedom in the presentation and reassessment of his art.

There are two principal thematic detours from what is a loosely chronological hang, and these provide the most dramatic and visually powerful displays in the exhibition. The first features Bacon's recurring preoccupation with the theme of the Crucifixion, the earliest version being the haunting Crucifixion (1933, Murderme, London), which Herbert Read illustrated in Art Now (1933), when Bacon was unknown. Bacon's art is often characterised as violent and brutal but, with a few exceptions, this does not hold up under analysis. However, the Crucifixion triptychs are indeed violent, as the exhibition's curator Chris Stephens noted in a BBC interview, and the decision by him and his co-curator, Matthew Gale, to hang Three Studies for a Crucifixion (1962; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York) and Crucifixion (1965; Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich; Fig. 2) facing each other, as if in gladiatorial combat, is inspired.

A source for the mutilated bodies that appear in both the 1962 and the 1965 Crucifixion paintings is probably, as Martin Harrison has observed in the catalogue that accompanies the exhibition, an illustration in a book Bacon owned, The True Aspects of the Algerian Revolution (1957). The prominence of carcasses in both triptychs was prompted by a feature on abattoirs in Paris Match in November 1961 (which was found in Bacon's studio). Furthermore, the controversial inclusion of a swastika in the 1965 Crucifixion was influenced by photographs of Hitler and his entourage. Therefore, the inspiration for the motifs in these important triptychs is drawn, as in so much of Bacon's art, from magazines, newspapers and books. Yet, despite the importance of this material, several reviewers have denounced the exhibitions inclusion of a room devoted to archival material as a distraction from the paintings. To me, the archive room enhances the experience of Bacon's work, as it adds to an understanding of Bacon's preparatory methods in the same way that Michelangelo's preliminary studies (incidentally a major source of inspiration to Bacon) enhance an understanding of his finished frescoes.

The second thematic room, 'Memorial', is devoted to triptychs of George Dyer, Bacon's lover and muse. The three large triptychs were all completed in the years following Dyer's death in October 1971. The first, Triptych - In memory of George Dyer (1971; Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel; Fig. 1) is unusual in Bacon's oeuvre as it appears to illustrate episodes in Dyer's life, while Triptych, May-June 1973 (1973; private collection, Switzerland) recalls events of his lonely suicide by graphically showing him vomiting in a sink in one panel and in another slumped on a toilet (where he was found dead). Despite Bacon's dislike of narrative interpretation, these triptychs seem to encourage a biographical reading, an approach that the curators have invited by collecting these works under the heading 'Memorial'.

While it is tempting to analyse these works solely as a sentimental and nostalgic pining for lost love
- and there is undoubtedly an element of that poignantly expressed in Bacon's diary on 24 October 1972 ('George died a year today') - it must also be remembered that shortly before his death Dyer had planted drugs in Bacon's studio, leading to Bacon's arrest and trial only four months before Dyer's suicide. It is perhaps because such complex personal emotions underlie these works that Bacon, unusually, has been unable to frustrate a narrative reading of his works.

Bacon's penchant for painting in themes is well represented and there is a good selection of popes, businessmen, crouching figures and animal paintings. The decision to hang the paintings at an extremely low level (often just above the skirting boards) enables the viewer to examine the variations in Bacon's application of paint. Nowhere is this more marked than in Head II (1949; Ulster Museum, Belfast; Fig. 3), where the top half of the canvas has paint so thick that it seems impenetrable (Bacon was trying to capture the effect of rhinoceros skin) but the lower left is just raw canvas (revealing also that Bacon painted on the unprimed side of the canvas). Subtle nuances in technique and colour can be appreciated with the low hang of the series works, particularly of the Popes, where the marked differences in such compositional elements as the 'space frames', curtains or 'shuttering' and the depiction of the throne are worthy of close attention.

The one problematic aspect of the hang is the decision to break up the series paintings, particularly the crouching figures, which are displayed over several different rooms and therefore offer no chance to view them comparatively. Nevertheless, in the case of the businessmen - which are all hung in one room - interspersing them with animal paintings forces one to view them independently of each other, and subtle differences appeared that I had not noticed before. The exhibition also has a wonderful range of Bacon's important late works, particularly a room filled predominantly with triptychs from the 1960s to 1980s, including Triptych (1976; private collection), which was recently sold in London for the highest price ever paid for a post-war work of art.

The quality and range of the works on display provide an opportunity to show Bacon at his best to a new generation too young to have seen the 1985 show. I left the exhibition feeling, as one should, visually exhausted but exhilarated.

Rebecca Daniels is a researcher on
Francis Bacon: The Catalogue Raisonne.





Francis Bacon, Urbanist, at Tate Britain



Ken Livingstone, Joseph Rykwert and others discuss art and architecture.


Text by Ned Beauman | Dazed Digital | 31 October 2008


Would Francis Bacon prefer the London of today to the London he actually grew up in? That was the question posed last week at the second of two Architecture Foundation panels at Tate Britain, this time featuring architects Nigel Coates and Denise Scott Brown, critics Joe Kerr and Joseph Rykwert, and former mayor Ken Livingstone.

Londoners, argued Coates in his opening keynote, often feel a great excitement about the fact that the city decays faster than it can be rebuilt, and Bacon’s attraction to the “entropic aspects” of cities comes through clearly in his paintings. So does his attraction to cramped, crowded places – pubs, butcher shops, boxing matches and back alleys – all of which anticipate the claustrophobic spaces he put down on canvas. Also influential were the possibility of impending doom that characterised much of the 1950s, and a certain disillusionment about the concrete sterility of what was being thrown up to repair the destruction of the Blitz.

In the clean, safe, prosperous modern London, of course, all that darkness is mostly gone, but the sterility is still here, simply transfigured from concrete into glass and steel. Kerr drew a parallel between the way that, in the Thatcher era, the city became predictable and therefore lost a certain complex, inscrutable eroticism, and the way that, after the passage of the Wolfenden Act that liberalised homosexuality, gay people were no longer driven into the small, dark, weird spaces that many of them came to relish. But is it dangerous to be nostalgic about a vanished London? Yes, said Rykwert: every generation thinks that London isn’t as good as it was.

Ken Livingstone, addressing this issue, described himself as an ‘urban chauvinist’, for whom cities are all that really matter. He argued that the post-war Abercrombie plan to reduce the population of London to five and a half million would have led to a horribly dull capital, and that, although today’s London may have lost some of its looseness, it is at least full of human diversity, which Bacon would have appreciated; and the real challenge for cities like Shanghai and Mumbai is to be open to population change, as well as population growth. Livingstone admitted, however, that there is one aspect of modern London that he’s glad he didn’t grow up with: “None of us had our own flat or our own car, so thank god there was no CCTV in alleys back then or we all would have been 25-year-old virgins.”





Bacon har en stillhet mitt i fasan




FRUSEN OBJEKTIVITET Trots skräcken och plågan hos figurerna är Francis Bacons penselskrift ömsint, delikat. Carl-Johan Malmberg har sett Tates tredje retrospektiv med den irländsk-brittiske målaren, och läst en bok som belyser det sakrala hos Bacon.


Francis Bacon. Studies for a Portrait

SVD Sweden, 31 Oktober 2008


Det sägs ibland att England bara haft två och en halv verkligt betydande målare: William Blake, William Turner – och så Francis Bacon (1909–1992); han räknas bara som en halv eftersom han var född på Irland.

Av 1900-talets engelska målare är Bacon hur som helst den enda som under seklet nådde utanför England, och det trots – eller kanske tack vare – att hans måleri ­redan vid debuten 1945 med triptyken Three studies for figures at the base of a crucifixion, ett måleriskt bombnedslag, gick stick i stäv med de rådande abstrakta strömningarna.

Vid den tiden förstod bara några få Bacons betydelse, bland dem de tongivande kritikerna Herbert Read och Kenneth Clark, liksom ledningen för Tate Gallery. Där tog man något motvilligt emot den skräckinjagande triptyken några år efter tillkomsten, som gåva av konstnärens dåvarande älskare, en förmögen affärsman.

I höst är Bacon aktuell med sin tredje retrospektiv på Tate (de tidigare var 1962 och 1985). Det är en storslagen utställning som ger en enastående överblick över livsverket. Triptyken är givetvis central, inte bara som startpunkten för konstnärskapet. Här finns mycket av det som under de kommande ­decennierna skulle komma att känneteckna Bacon, denne envist borrande mullvad: figurernas monstrositet, det klaustrofobiska och samtidigt gränslösa rummet, den kliniska ljussättningen, den relativt tunt pålagda, glanslösa färgen, och en underligt frusen objektivitet, en stillhet mitt i fasan – kanske det som Bacon själv, apropå Picasso, skulle kalla ”the brutality of fact”.

Bacon tillhör de konstnärer som kombinerar det radikalt främmande med något man ändå tycker sig känna igen; Freud döpte denna egenskap hos så mycket stor konst till das Unheimliche, det kusliga. En av hemligheterna med Bacon är legeringen av det gengångaraktiga med det aldrig tidigare skådade. Vi har varit här förr – och vi är här för första gången.

Han sökte aldrig sin stil, han fann den tidigt, eller rättare sagt, han trädde fram som målare först när han funnit den. När han gjorde triptyken var han 35 år. I Tate-retrospektiven samsas den med ett drygt sjuttiotal andra verk, flera av dem triptyker, men denna första ter sig nu nästan intim. Bacons favoritstorlek kom senare att bli betydligt större dukar som rymde människan i helformat, dukar om 2x1,5 meter, och utställningen visar hans besatthet av det formatet.

En viss monotoni står på spel; målningarna är vid första påseende mycket lika varandra: en enstaka eller ett par figurer, manieristiskt vridna, i ett rum med gåtfulla, liksom provisoriska, kanske mer för kroppen än för ögat förnimbara avspjälkningar.

Det likartade förstärks av att samtliga målningar är glasade och de flesta dessutom i tunga guldramar. Jag har alltid trott att detta var galleriernas och samlarnas påhitt, det gör Bacons säregna, spindelvävstunna måleriska textur svår att uppfatta med mindre än att man trycker näsan mot glaset.

Men Michael Peppiatt, den främste kännaren av Bacons person och konst sedan David Sylvester dog, skriver i sin nyutkomna essäsamling Francis Bacon. Studies for a Portrait: ”Bacon ville att hans bilder skulle bestå; och det var säkert det underliggande skälet till att han lät glasa dem i allt deras överdåd och förse dem med massiva guldramar, med den råa paradoxen och gåtfullheten intakt, precis som de inneslutna mästerverken runt om i världens kyrkor och museer.”

Peppiatt skriver detta i The Sacred and the Profane, bokens viktigaste essä och tveklöst bland det bästa som skrivits om honom. Han visar hur Bacon i sin våldsamma uppfattning av det sakrala går vid sidan av den kristna mytologi han hämtat så mycket visuell inspiration från (alla dessa korsfästelser), och liksom lösgör element, smärtan, det plågade skriket, offrandet av människo­kroppen, ur berättelserna till ett slags slagkraftiga punktfenomen. Den plågade, sargade kroppen blir vardagsmänniskans. Skriet, som finns redan i triptyken från 1945, blir till existentiell urbild. Vi är födda att dö och däremellan finns skriet.

Jag vet inte om någon har kopplat ihop Bacons återkommande skri – inte minst de skrikande påvarna, hans mest kända bilder – med Jesajas 40:e kapitel där det, i den engelska bibelöversättning som Bacon läste, heter: ”The voice said, Cry… All flesh is grass.” Här finns inte bara urskriket – Gud uppmanar Jesaja att skrika ut kroppens dödlighet. Här finns också en möjlig urcell för Bacons besatthet av kroppen, köttet.

I vår gamla bibelöversättning heter det ”Allt kött är hö.”

De orden är en god sammanfattning av Bacons måleri. Han förvandlar det av våld, av lust, av båda tillsammans, eller bara av att finnas till plågade mänskliga köttet till gräsliknande penselstråk. Hans penselskrift är trots skräcken och skriken hos figurerna ömsint, delikat. Det ser man vid närgranskning.

En vakt ber mig att inte gå så nära målningarna. Jag förklarar att jag gärna skulle gå in i dem helt och hållet. Men inte i deras händelser utan i deras stoff.

Carl-Johan Malmberg




Tapped Out?






A $60 million painting by Kazimir Malevich. A $40 million self-portrait by Francis Bacon. It hardly seems the ideal moment to be selling such pricey art. As Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips de Pury brace for their big fall auctions in New York, starting with a sale of 71 Impressionist and Modern paintings, drawings and sculptures at Sotheby’s on Monday night, anxiety is the dominant mood.

Only 10 days ago, Sotheby’s reported a loss of $15 million in guarantees — the undisclosed amount that the houses promise to sellers regardless of the outcome of a sale — from recent auctions in Hong Kong and London.

Millions of dollars of art went unsold at those September and October sales, with many works going for well below their estimates. Since then auction house officials have been busy trying to get sellers to lower their expectations. Much of the art up for auction this week and next was secured early in the summer, when the world seemed a far different place. Now, with the net worth of so many buyers plummeting, auction houses have been trying to persuade sellers to lower their reserves, that is, the undisclosed minimum price that a bidder must meet for the art to be sold.

“Prices of all assets have fallen — stocks, gold, oil, real estate — and it would be unrealistic to expect works of art to be immune to the market’s pressures,” said Marc Porter, president of Christie’s in America. “We are actively encouraging consignors to set reasonable reserves.”

Minimizing risk is the message of the moment. While Sotheby’s has said that it has provided only half the number of guarantees it did a year ago, the company still has outstanding guarantees of $285.5 million.

Unlike Sotheby’s, Christie’s is not a public company, and is not obligated to release figures, but officials there acknowledge having a similar level of risk. As for buyers, the message is a little trickier. With them, Mr. Porter said, Christie’s is making the argument that the objects they desire “might not reappear on the market next season at an even lower price.”

The big question is who will be buying this expensive art. With hedge-fund traders, Russian oligarchs and wealthy Middle Easterners having taken a hit in the financial markets, the auction houses, whistling in the dark, are hoping for a return of old money.

“Americans who fled when prices began soaring will jump back into the market but at a different price level,” said Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s head of contemporary art. Among the standouts in the fall lineup at Sotheby’s are paintings like Edvard Munch’s Vampire (1894), priced to bring more than $35 million, and an Yves Klein wall relief estimated at more than $25 million. Christie’s is offering a 1934 portrait of Picasso’s mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter estimated at $18 million to $25 million and a Basquiat painting at $12 million and $16 million. “I still hold the belief that the great works will find buyers,” said Guy Bennett, of Christie’s. But at what price remains to be seen.  

No Guarantee for This One

EARLY last summer a New York collector negotiated a hefty guarantee from Christie’s in consigning his 1964 Study for Self-Portrait  by Francis Bacon for the fall auctions. In the months it took to hammer out details of the contract, economic turmoil grew so worrisome that Christie’s got cold feet and withdrew the guarantee.

The auction house persuaded the seller to offer the Bacon anyway, and it is one of the highlights of Christie’s Nov. 12 sale. Experts say that the full-length portrait, in which the artist is shown sitting on a bed, his body twisted from head to toe, should sell for around $40 million.

Christie’s is obviously hoping to capitalize on the record prices paid for Bacon’s works recently. A 1976 Bacon triptych went for $86.3 million in May at Sotheby’s in New York, and a 1975 self-portrait brought $34.4 million at Christie’s in London in June. Those were among the highest prices ever paid for the British artist, who is the subject of a current exhibition at the Tate in London that travels to the Metropolitan Museum of Art  in New York in May.

Still, there is no getting around the fact that “the market has changed,” said Brett Gorvy, co-head of Christie’s postwar and contemporary art department.





   Architecture and Design in the Bacon Era: Texture



    Mark Cousins

     The Architecture Foundation, Tate Britain Auditorium, Wednesday 1 October 2008







I can’t remember now whether it was in the catalogue of the current exhibition of Bacon or whether on it was on one of those panels but at some point there was a quotation from Bacon saying “I suppose in the end we’re just meat” and I wanted to try and start off, as it were, some thoughts about both texture and also materiality by considering some of the problems, what we might call the aesthetic problems, of meat especially in that difficult area that we call ugliness or which other people call ugliness, I want to try and suggest this evening this is not how it’s normally portrayed and if properly handled is an extremely powerful and valuable artistic and architectural instrument.

Let me invite you first to engage in a thought experiment. You look at some ones face as we scan some ones face we look, as it were, for signs of expression, in some sense for the way in which the face is thought to be able to represent emotions or states of mind or whatever. As we do it invariably we have a fantasy that this expression does not simply belong to the surface but it has a depth and we frequently actually experience that as a depth but of course it has this peculiarity because the depth is not remotely localised.

If we say he looked sad we don’t say it looked about two centimetres deep in the sadness of it. Now nowhere I think is it more remarkable than if you add in to this picture of a face which you experience partly through the dimension of the depth of its expression then imagine suddenly in some process, the face suddenly manifests a wound and you suddenly see that underneath the infinitesimally thin layer of skin there’s blood and there’s flesh and there’s bone; normally people have a kind of visceral turning away from this experience. Now if you try to follow through this action of turning away, we might wonder: what is it that we’re turning away from?...

The appearance of the wound indicates suddenly the collapse – a collapse of what; I mean, I’m going to say representation but I don’t mean it in a representational way. It’s as if I can’t continue having a fantasy about the depth of your sadness or the extent of your pleasure; I can’t do it any longer because, as it were, it is disrupted by the appearance of a wound. Essentially unless your medically knowledgeable, what you’re seeing, and I think Bacon was correct to use it in a general sense, is what he calls meat. Let’s kind of make a formula in some sense as saying: what meat is at a kind of level of experience, is almost the collapse of representation or of signification…

This collapse of representation is I think part of what we might call the experience of ugliness, the turning away, at which point we might begin to hypothesise that this is not what I think it is, it is what I think people experience it as; an experience of the ugly in that sense is this: it is without signification it is without being a part of the a space of representation, it is stuff, it is meat… People’s experience of the ugly - again I’m not saying that’s what it is - is a defence against this moment - a moment which is too raw and is too, almost, unnerving; we might say that the popular experience of the ugly is: it’s that which is there but at the same time, is perceived as it shouldn’t be there - or sometimes it’s the same but the other way round: it’s that which is not there but should be.

In Leroux’s novel The Phantom of the Opera there’s a wonderful moment when the scene shifter describes to the girls of the corps de ballet that he has seen the ghost in box five; he describes the ghost to the girls and he says, in a way in which logic itself can’t tolerate, but clearly we know exactly what he means, he says: and the ghost has no nose and that no nose is a horrible thing to look at. It’s something that isn’t there but should be… I want to suggest that one dimension of the achievement of Bacon is in a sense to take this problem on board directly and, in a way that it is very difficult to describe in his achievement, but has the achievement of as it were, bringing back meat into our understanding, bringing back meat into a kind of poetics, that which is always, as it were, normally excluded; I was at the exhibition on Sunday and it’s not just a question obviously of meat, it is those strange puddles of existence which you see so clearly in the three triptychs in homage to George Dyer - it is, indeed, a sublime moment…

Now in a sense all I’ve said is an attempt to say that what people describe as being ugly we should consider it a defence and if you can undo this defence, if, like Bacon, you can propel the spectator into the midst of meat and find it not only human but essentially human, then, as it were, you remove some of the defences which so often kind of disable, I don’t mind putting it bluntly, disable public taste. It is a struggle. Now if something like this is the case, that I’m more than aware that I haven’t said directly anything about architecture and texture, then one of the ways we might consider the issues this evening is to think within the scope of Bacon’s adult career what also happens within architecture to be able to do that: at the level of a certain materiality and at the level of texture, that is to say, to undermine the public defence against the ugly and actually to propel it towards something new and powerful and human not in a humanistic way but human almost in a somewhat unnerving way. Thank you very much. 





   Art in the flesh



      The Daily’s Whitney Mallett gets a taste for meat as medium and muse  



        The McGill Daily | Monday, Oct 27 | Volume 98, Issue 16




                       Francis Bacon & Meat by Francis Giacobetti 1991



“Imagine you’re hanging from a meat hook.” A dance teacher made this analogy to me years ago, and I will never forget it. There is something eerily beautiful about the suspension of raw meat. Of course, this beauty is matched with the discomfort that comes from visualizing yourself as a hanging carcass. Painter Francis Bacon would have probably liked the idea. He once said, “Hams, pigs, tongues, sides of beef seen in the butcher’s window, all that death, I find it very beautiful. And it’s all for sale – how unbelievably surrealistic!”

Bacon often painted hanging meat. He was not the first artist to be seduced by the texture, colour, and marbling of raw flesh. Rembrandt painted his famous Carcass of Beef centuries before and, during Bacon’s own lifetime, Chaim Soutine rendered a more modern, bloodier version of Rembrandt’s suspended ox.


In the later part of the 20th century, meat made a transition from the subject of art works to the very fabric of them. In 1987, Canadian artist and Concordia graduate Jana Sterbak first showed her dress constructed of 50 pounds of salted flank steak in Montreal. Over the course of the exhibit, Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic transformed from raw to cured state, in some ways imitating the human aging process. Sterbak followed up her meaty success with another in 1996: Chair Apollinaire, a chair made from over 150 pounds of steak, also cured. The piece is a pun on the French word for flesh: chair


Fittingly, Sterbak strongly emphasizes that her works are not about meat, but about flesh. “And flesh is what we are!” she adds. A steak’s muscle, fat, and tissue, when juxtaposed against human flesh, encourage us to consider our own animality – something that usually escapes our consciousness. When meat’s typical function is perverted, and it is presented as flesh and not food, it becomes prime material for self-reflection. 


Chinese artist Zhang Huan donned a meat suit in his piece My New York to explore his complex relationship with his adopted city. The suit, made of raw steaks, was shaped to give Huan a brawny body-builder aesthetic, but its flayed surface contrasted strength with vulnerability. During the performance piece, Huan released doves, alluding to the Buddhist tradition amassing grace by freeing live animals.


Huan’s piece was an attempt to reconcile the culture he came from with a culture thrust upon him. He explains that although a body-builder slowly builds up muscle, he adopts the aesthetic overnight. Donning the meat suit parallels his forced adoption of American culture. The connotations of red meat as a conspicuous example of American society’s disproportionate consumption cannot be ignored in the piece. Meat is not just flesh used to explore mortality and self-reflection; for Huan, it is undoubtedly also a symbol of a culture whose habits of consumption differ drastically from the rest of the world.


In a 2005 interview with Jonas Storsve, Sterbak explained: “The two most evident connotations of flesh, but not necessarily of meat, are the sexual and the mortal.” The relationship between carnage and carnality is explored in some of the earliest recorded art using meat. Carol Schneeman’s 1964 performance Meat Joy – shown first in Paris and then again in New York City – was a Dionysian piece in which eight partially nude figures danced and played in raw fish and chicken, sausage, paint, and paper. It was meant to celebrate flesh as a material.


The same year, American performance artist Robert Delford Brown’s Meat Show also used meat to invoke sexuality. In the Washington Meat Market, he created brothel-like rooms out of tons of blood and raw meat strewn with yards and yards of sheer fabric suggestive of lingerie. Visitors walked through the decorated meat locker in white coats and were then fed sausages. Brown, notorious for invoking shock and scandal in his avant-garde art, located the viewers’ own consumption of meat while meat surrounded them. The show only lasted three days.


Meat goes bad fast. Meat art often has to be performed or captured on film because otherwise it will rot. Its impermanence reminds us of our own mortality – one day, we too, will rot. Sterbak cures steak to prevent her work from putrefying, but the piece’s transformation from fleshy and raw to its shrivelled, salted state recalls changes that take place in our bodies over time. “Art, when successful, comes close to resembling life; and life, as well as love, is ephemeral, perishable, and fleeting,” she professes.


Pinar Yolacan also uses meat to explore human decay. For Perishables, she photographed elderly women wearing garments constructed from poultry and tripe – each piece imitates the individual subject’s wrinkled face. The state of the aging women and their perishing garb is immortalized in the photographs. In an interview with The New York Times in 2004, Yolacan commented on her choice of material: “I’ve always been interested in the impermanence of things,” she said. 


While Sterbak and Yolacan prevented their pieces from going rancid, Jan Fabre exploits the rotting process in his installation piece, Temples of Meat. The project involved wrapping columns at Ghent University in Belgium with 200 pounds of decaying steak, bacon, and minced meat to make them “come alive” by attracting flies. Meat is essentially lifeless, but at once becomes a source of life, and a metaphor for life’s transient nature.


Meat’s expiration illustrates life’s impermanence, and its decomposition exemplifies the cyclical nature of life and death. Whether it’s rotting or not, meat can be disgusting. Meat evokes a visceral reaction: being confronted by a material representation of death can instinctively repel us. But most of us also depend on meat for survival. When it is presented before us as art, this complex relationship is explored. 


Meat exposes us to what is below the skin’s surface. We are often disconnected from our own insides; for whatever reason, we are revolted when confronted with a suggestion of the body turned inside-out. Viewers were repulsed by Chilean artist Gabriela Rivera’s 2005 film Efímero: she covered herself in raw meat strips to construct a metaphor for the relationship people have with their mirror image. Meat is intimately related to the body. It resembles our own flesh; it even becomes a part of us when we ingest it. Disguised in meat, Rivera’s flayed, Frankenstein-like figure provoked her audience members to examine their own body images. However, many people were just shocked and repulsed by the film.


McGill student Alex Cowan is also interested in meat as provocation. He strewed rotting scraps around public spaces in Montreal – what he thought would be a foolproof plan to invoke some sort of reaction. But only a congregation of seagulls and pigeons seemed to take notice. “Some people looked disgusted; most people were entirely indifferent. Most people tuned it right out of their consciousness,” he explains. 


Indifference toward this display of meat suggests society’s disconnect between ground-up meat in a Styrofoam container and the concept of a dead animal. Sterbak notes the linguistic dichotomy: “Consider that in many languages the name of the animal changes when it arrives on your plate. For example, cow becomes beef; pig becomes pork.” Meat is defined by our consumption of it. “In the abstract, idealized world that we live in most people don’t want to make the connection between meat and a pig. Humans create their own world. We have developed meat as a commodity because that’s what we think it ought to be,” says Cowan. 


The commodification of meat has reached the point that it has become a symbol of objectification. Ann Simonton wore a bologna dress to protest women being treated as meat. The phrase “treated as meat” connotes a complete lack of respect and devaluation. 


Art can provoke us to question the disconnection between the process and the product. The transition from dead animal to food, however, can itself be an art. Michelle Boubis, a butcher at Jean Talon Market, argues that butchery is an art form “because it ennobles the animal, giving value to what we eat.” Treating butchery as an art means treating the animal like a living thing, and not merely as objectified, consumer-defined, meat.


This type of processing is rare today. While Boubis receives animals whole, directly from the farm, most meat is packed in industrial factories. The meat hanging from butchers’ windows that Bacon found so beautiful is becoming less and less common. Instead, packaging appeases our conceptualized ideal of meat. “Many people, myself amongst them, have doubts about meat consumption, and, above all, the way our society takes care of its livestock intended for mass consumption…. This is why meat does not resemble itself in the effort to divorce it from any appearance that may recall our own flesh,” Sterbak stated in an interview with Storsve. 


These concerns are not new. In his 1924 silent film Kino-Glaz, Dzia Vertov critically examines industrial meat processing. He playfully presents the sequence of a cow’s slaughter in reverse, inspiring both delight and horror in the viewer. Life springs from the materiality of death lying on the slaughterhouse floor. A dead ox appears to be sewn back up by mechanical knives, leaps to its feet, and is driven backward to the pasture.  


The relationship between meat and art has manifested itself in different ways. A New York Times article from 1909 titled “Meat Packers and Art” describes meat as a currency to purchase treasured European art. The article reports fears that the art would be exchanged for $2-million “accumulated in meat packing.” Historic European works were said to be dangled before the “covetous, meat-packing eyes” of American millionaires, contrasting modern industrial society with established artistic tradition. Both art and meat were marketed as commodities then, just as they are now. The market was ascribing the two equivalent values for exchange before artists were using meat to draw metaphors in their art.  


Whether hanging in a butchers’ window or on display in art gallery, meat is for our consumption. As food, or as art, meat is a product – whether it ends up on our plate or not. It isn’t hard to engage critically with meat when it’s presented subversively as art. But hopefully we can begin to consume it as critically with our mouths as we do with our eyes.









Bacon makes a meal out of tragedy







The Daily Telegraph 25/10/2008




Steadily, since the Thirties, the painter Francis Bacon had established himself as one of the greatest figures of 20th century British art. And, as a heavy-drinking Soho low-lifer with a string of violent boyfriends, he thought he had seen it all. His first lover, Peter Lacy, an older man, would often tear up the young artist's paintings or beat him up and leave him on the street half-conscious. 


But in 1971, he was to suffer a grievous blow. George Dyer, an East End petty criminal Bacon had lived with since he caught him breaking into his home in 1964, committed suicide on the eve of a major retrospective in Paris.


The artist was devastated and started painting Triptych. An attempt to exorcise Bacon's pain and guilt, it is a portrait of Dyer before his death and has been called one of his "supreme achievements", more tragic and sensitive than any of his other works.


In 2008, Francis Bacon's Triptych 1976 became the most expensive work of contemporary art, fetching $86.3m.



                                      Francis Bacon







   Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

    New York, Rockefeller Plaza  12 November 2008


     Lot 27/Sale 2048  Francis Bacon (1909 - 1992) Study for Self-Portrait  




                                            Study for Self-Portrait  1964  Francis Bacon  



Lot Description

Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
Study for Self-Portrait
titled and dated 'SELF PORTRAIT NO 1 1964' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
60 x 55 in. (152.4 x 140 cm.)
Painted in 1964.  

Estimate on request ($40 million to $60 million)  Unsold



Marlborough Fine Art, London
Peter Stuyvesant Foundation, Amsterdam, 1965
Waddington Galleries, London, 1976
Mark Goodson, New York
Richard Nagy Ltd., London
Acquired from the above by the present owner



L. Ficacci, Francis Bacon: 1909-1992, New York, 2003, p. 95 (illustrated in color).



London, Marlborough Fine Art, Francis Bacon: Recent Paintings, July-August 1965, no. 3 (illustrated).
Hamburg, Kunsthalle; Stockholm, Moderna Museet and Dublin, Museum of Modern Art, Francis Bacon: Gemälde 1945-1964, January 1965-1966, n.p., no. 61 (illustrated).
Manchester, City Art Gallery, Francis Bacon, 1966-1967.
London, The Tate Gallery, Recent British Painting: Peter Stuyvesant Foundation Collection, November-December 1967, p. 48, no. 13 (illustrated in colour).
Adelaide, The Art Gallery of South Australia and Auckland City Art Gallery, Recent British Painting: Peter Stuyvesant Collection Foundation, 1970-1971, n.p., no. 11 (illustrated).
Tokyo, Le Musée National d'Art Occidental, English Portraits, October-December 1975, no. 72 (illustrated in colour; also illustrated on the cover).
Paris, Galerie de France, Peintres Anglais 1960-1980, December 1980.
New York, Pace Wildenstein, The Mark Goodson Collection: Modern Masters from the Collection of Mark Goodson, 1995.
New Haven, The Yale Center for British Art; The Minneapolis Institute of Arts; The Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco and The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Francis Bacon: A Retrospective, January-October 1999, pp. 132-133, no. 41 (illustrated in colour).


Lot Notes

Francis Bacon's intense and probing self-portraits are among his most important works, and are without a doubt part of the canon of great self-portraits in the history of art. A modern master of the human figure, Bacon naturally chose to paint his own image; as he explained, "after all, as we are human beings, our greatest obsession is with ourselves" (F. Bacon, quoted in D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact, Interviews with Francis Bacon, London, 1987, p. 116). A rare example of a full-length self-portrait, Study for Self-Portrait of 1964 emblematically represents the painter's complex character painter, a tour-de-force of his indelibly original style.

When Bacon executed Study for Self-Portrait, his public recognition had recently and dramatically shifted - metamorphosing from maverick to master in the worldwide audience's eyes. Just two years prior, he reached a new zenith in his career, receiving accolades for his monumental first retrospective at the Tate in London, followed by another triumphant exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in 1963. A few years later, shows such as Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Masters celebrated him as one of the greatest British painters in history. The year he painted the present work, both a catalogue raisonné and a monograph by the esteemed historian John Russell critically praised his career. Such accolades seem to have fuelled deep introspection, as Bacon took stock of his relationship to painting - as a friend recalled, "I sensed that for once Francis was deeply content, possibly as satisfied with his work as he had ever been - yet overwhelmed, too, and possibly frightened" (D. Farson, The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon, New York, 1993, p. 158). Devastating news accompanied his success at the Tate: his lover Peter Lacy, with whom he had a tortured affair, had died in Tangiers. Nevertheless, Bacon continued experimenting and pushing his painterly powers further than ever before in the wake of this mixture of professional success and personal tragedy.

Bacon depicts himself unsparingly, offering an intimate view in the vulnerable position of sitting on a bed. Bacon grasps his hands together tightly on his lap, making palpable the tension simmering within. Swirling rhythms of paint move from his head to the tip of his toe suggesting the storm of his inner psyche. His startling facial convolutions
one of his most important signatures only amplify the painting's powerfully expressive effect. This paradox, that distorting one's physiognomy could yield deeper insight and truth, is central to Bacon's artistic enterprise. As he described in an interview published the year he painted Study for Self-Portrait, "I have deliberately tried to twist myself, but I have not gone far enough. My paintings are, if you like, a record of this distortion. Photography has covered so much: in a painting that's even worth looking at, the image must be twisted if it is to make a renewed assault upon the nervous system. That is the peculiar difficulty of figurative painting now. I attempt to re-create a particular experience with greater poignancy in the desire to live through it again with a different kind of intensity" (F. Bacon, quoted in Cambridge Opinion, 1964). Despite his customary deformations, Bacon's subjects are always surprisingly recognizable - as in his self-portrait, where his distinctive forelock of dark hair emerges in the paint's twisting complexities. Bacon scrutinized himself not only in the mirror, but also in photographs of himself. He worked from memories of these sources, building up a complex matrix of shifting perspectives.

Bacon cast himself as heir to two of the greatest painters in the history of Western art, both famed for their self-portrait series, Rembrandt and Van Gogh. Bacon admired Rembrandt's haunting self-portraits, in which the play of light across his visage offers a poignant mediation on the painter's own mortality. Bacon claimed that, "I think the self-portraits are the greatest thing Rembrandt ever did because they were formally the most extraordinary paintings. He altered painting in a way by the method by which he dealt with himself, and perhaps he felt freer to deal with himself in this totally liberal way" (F. Bacon quoted in D. Sylvester, Looking back at Francis Bacon, London, 2000, p. 241). By extension, one can understand how Bacon must have keenly felt free to experiment in rendering his own image. His swirls of thick impasto recall not only the heavily encrusted surface of Rembrandt's portraits, but also the canvases of Van Gogh. Like Van Gogh's obsessive return to his own image in his wide-ranging series of self-portraits, Bacon used this format to come to terms with himself throughout his career. Bacon made a number of copies after self-portraits by Van Gogh in the late 1950s and early 1960s, including Self-portrait with Pipe in 1960. Indeed, Bacon's palette of high-keyed blue and green tones echoes Van Gogh's legendary coloration, just as Bacon's passages of juicy impasto share the acute expressiveness of Van Gogh's brushwork, where certain dabs of paint seem so alive as to be almost sensate. Another great master on whose legacy Bacon builds is of course Picasso. Indeed it was in 1927 at an exhibition of Picasso's work at Pierre Rosenberg's gallery in Paris that first inspired Bacon to become a painter. Picasso's biomorphic contortions of figures, especially in works from the late 1920s and early 1930s, particularly influenced Bacon. Yet Picasso never submitted his own image to such radical pictorial convolutions as Bacon, preferring instead to experiment upon his models.

Bacon's trenchant dedication to figural painting, and especially to portraiture, went against the grain of the avant-garde art world in the post-war era. Bacon continued to be fascinated by the endless expressive possibilities in depicting spatially isolated figures over the span of five decades. By the time he painted the present work in 1964, Pop art was at its apogee. Yet Bacon eschewed such meditations on the world of popular culture and mass reproduction in favour of his universe of intimate portraits, a world behind closed doors, populated for the most part with images of himself and his closest friends. Likewise, he repudiated the ability of the dominant modern form of painting, abstraction, to delve into the human condition
which he saw as his artistic goal stating that "Man is haunted by the mystery of his existence and is therefore much more obsessed with the remaking and recording of his own image of his world than with the beautiful fun of even the best abstract art. Pop art is made for kicks. Great art gives kicks, too, but it also unlocks the valves of intuition and perception about the human situation at a deeper level" (F. Bacon, quoted in Cambridge Opinion, 1964).

Yet while Bacon's squarely emphasizes the figure, he nevertheless mastered the language of abstraction, from the virtual colour field painting that comprises the spare architectural setting for the figure, to the emphatic gestural splashes and slashes of his paint. This stems, at least in part, from the impact of a 1959 exhibition at the Tate called New American Painting, which featured the work of Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko among others. Yet his empathetic extemporaneous brushwork
only heightened in contrast to the background's smooth passages of flat fields of paint, and raw exposed canvas that peeks out intermittently - also reveals Bacon embracing of the seductive thrills of chance. Famously, he had long greatly loved gambling (even hosting an illegal gambling parlour in his own home), particularly roulette. By the time he painted the present work in 1964, he embraced in his paintings both elements of chance and an almost violent abandon to the action of painting. "I do," Bacon explained, "work very much more by chance now than I did when I was young. For instance, I throw an awful lot of paint onto things, and I don't know what is going to happen to it. I throw it with my hand. I just squeeze it into my hand and throw it on. I can't by my will push it further. I can only hope that the throwing of paint onto the already-made or half-made image will either re-form the image or that I will be able to manipulate this further into anyway, for me a greater intensity" (F. Bacon, quoted in D. Sylvester, Brutality of Fact, p. 90). The spray of black paint behind his head combines painterly abandon and aggression, made all the more potent as it radiates from the head, suggesting either psychic implosion or outright violence. In the present work the dark, ambiguous geometric form that frames the painter's head. As Bacon often favored painting smaller-scale self-portraits that featured his face isolated against a dark background, this passage of the painting can be seen as a mise-en-scène of one such work.

The present work was the sole self-portrait in Bacon's 1965 solo exhibition in London at the Marlborough gallery, part of a group of nine exceptionally strong works, including Crucifixion of 1965 (now in the collection of Staatsgalerie Moderner Kunst in Munich). The exhibition was timed to coincide with the Giacometti retrospective at the Tate. Giacometti and Bacon had struck up a friendship, and Giacometti even left an opening reception for his own show to visit Bacon's exhibition. Bacon and Giacometti were firmly established as two of the era's most important artists, capturing the despair of postwar existence by depicting isolated humanity. Bacon above all admired Giacometti's drawings, yet he was also prompted to consider creating sculpture due to his impact, an idea that, although soon abandoned, finds resonance in the emphatically sculptural quality of his head in the present self-portrait as well as other works.

Bacon titled this, and other finished works, "studies," to emphasize the fact that although the works were complete in themselves, they are part of an open-ended and ceaseless meditation on his subjects, and existence itself. Study for Self-portrait conveys in the most visceral way the artist's own subjectivity, and manages to be both sensual and terrifying, lushly painted but also underscored by a sense of violence. Above all, it truly succeeds in Bacon's avowed goal in portraiture: "The living quality is what you have to get. In painting a portrait the problem is to find a technique by which you can give over all the pulsations of a person" (F. Bacon, quoted in D. Sylvester, Looking Back, p. 98).





Exceptional Work by Francis Bacon Leads Christie's New York Post-War & Contemporary Art Sale



Art Daily - The First Art Newspaper on the Net, Sunday, October 26, 2008




                                               Detail from Francis Bacon’s Study for Self-Portrait, 1964


Christie's is pleased to announce the sale of the Francis Bacon’s Study for Self Portrait, 1964, (estimate on request) in the New York Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 12 November 2008. A rare example of a full length self-portrait, this work is truly a consummate representation of the artist’s complex character, as well as a tour-de-force of his indelibly original style of painting.

According to Christie’s International Co-Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art, Brett Gorvy, “This crucial work by Francis Bacon is bound to attract international interest in the November Evening Sale. Study for Self-Portrait, is a rare and outstanding apogee in Bacon’s creative output.”

Study for Self Portrait is triumph of Bacon’s unapologetic metamorphosing of the human form. Grasping his hands while sitting on a bed, the subject is twisted from head to toe. The work affords the viewer a visceral awareness of the subjectivity within the artist, managing to achieve a sentiment that is both sensual and unsettling, lushly painted but underscored with a sense of violence. Study for Self-Portrait draws upon Rembrandt’s renowned self-portraits in its introspective depiction of Bacon’s inner struggle. Bacon depicts himself with a distorted twisting face so as to illustrate the complex matrix of perspectives that lie within, achieving a haunting effect that not only presents his physical person, but in fact reveals every pulsation existing within his being.

Bacon executed the present work in one of the most significant years of his career and life, experiencing the enormous satisfaction of critical acclamation in both a catalogue raisonné and a monograph by John Russell, and the unbearable anguish of the death of his lover, Peter Lacy. However, it was in this wake of professional success and personal tragedy that Bacon transitioned from a maverick to a master, a triumph which is evident within Study for Self-Portrait.

Today, Bacon’s self portraits are widely regarded as one of his most important bodies of work, and unquestionably part of the canon of great self-portraits in the history of art. This assessment became apparent last spring based on the tremendous demand for such works at Christie's Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sales when the intimate-scaled works Three Studies for Self-Portrait, 1976 realized $28,041,000/£14,380,000/€18,090,968 in New York, and Three Studies for Self-Portrait, 1975 led the June sale in London with £17,289,250/$34,457,475/€21,767,166.







Portraits by Alberto Giacometti and Francis Bacon

Gagosian Gallery, November 4 - December 13, 200

980 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10075 USA

Tel 212.744.2313 Fax 212.710.3825  Tue-Sat 10-6




                                              Francis Bacon by Jorge Lewinsk                                                                           Giacometti by Ernst Scheidegger



"To make a head really lifelike is impossible, and the more you struggle to make it lifelike the less like life it becomes."
Alberto Giacometti

Gagosian Gallery is pleased to announce Isabel and Other Intimate Strangers: Portraits by Alberto Giacometti and Francis Bacon. This exhibition brings together important loans and rarely seen works from international museums and private collections, including the Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, The Metropolitan Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Nasher Collection, the Detroit Institute of Arts, and the Sainsbury Collection. It explores the enduring fascination of Giacometti and Bacon with the existential challenges and ineffable mysteries of the human figure and psyche, explored throughout their careers in the portraits, or likenesses, that they produced of close friends and family.

One such subject was the model and muse Isabel Rawsthorne, a compelling figure of consuming vitality and recklessness. While Rawsthorne generally made an instant and overwhelming physical impression on people, over time her effect on Giacometti produced profound conflictual responses in him. Beyond the clearly identified bronze busts of her such as Tete d'Isabel I and II (1936 and 1937-38 respectively), his female standing figures, from Femme qui marche (1932-36) to the diminutive pedestal sculptures and the Amazonian Grandes Figures, are said to have been inspired by his vision of her standing some distance away from him on a street one night, distant and imperious. Isabel's relationship with Francis Bacon was quite different, that of kindred spirit and drinking companion rather than muse, yet her distinctive presence is one that haunts his work, like Giacometti before him. One of Bacon's finest pictures, Isabel Rawsthorne Standing in a Street in Soho (1967), is based on a fleeting memory of her, while in the high-keyed, viscerally rendered triptychs Three Studies for a head of Isabel Rawsthorne (1965 and 1965), Bacon's perennial struggle with experience and its depiction plays itself out in what he described as "shifting sequences where one picture reflects on the other continuously."




              Bacon's 1954 David Sylvester Walking flanked by Giocametti's Striding Man and a Head


Giacometti's most enduring and remarkable relationship was with his younger brother Diego, the subject of his first sculpture, Testa di Diego, completed when he was just thirteen years old. Companion, consultant, and studio assistant, Diego became his brother's favourite model and male archetype. Giacometti's wife Annette, the subject of hundreds of paintings and sculptures, and his professional model and mistress Caroline would become similarly pervasive referents, inspiring more subjective variations on the feminine form, from the tiny yet shapely bronze Figurines (c. 1954-56) and seated sculptures (Femme Assise, 1956) to paintings such as Annette (1952) and Caroline dans sa robe rouge, 1965.

During the 1960s, Bacon, who had made very few named portraits in the first half of his career, concentrated increasingly on himself and a handful of close friends as his subjects - from his boyfriend, George Dyer, to Lucien Freud, Muriel Belcher (who ran The Colony Room, Bacon's favourite drinking club), and Henrietta Moraes. Bacon said that he thought of friendship as "two people pulling each other to bits" and, in his unsettling portraits, he vivisected his friends in no uncertain manner.

Isabel and Other Intimate Strangers will be accompanied by a full colour publication with essays by Véronique Wiesinger, director of the Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti in Paris who is also responsible for the catalogue raisonné of Alberto Giacometti; and Martin Harrison, director of the project for the catalogue raisonné of the work of Francis Bacon. The Fondation Alberto and Annette Giacometti has overseen the selection of Giacometti works for this exhibition.

The exhibition inaugurates Gagosian's fourth floor galleries at 980 Madison Avenue. It also coincides with the first major survey of Alberto Giacometti's work in Russia, opening at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow on September 16, and Tate Britain's historic exhibition marking Francis Bacon's centenary (September 8, 2008 – January 4, 2009)





Art market boom slows, but Lucian Freud's Francis Bacon makes 'astronomical' £5.4m



Only 58% of lots were sold at Sotheby's, and it's a similar story at Christie's





The contemporary art-market boom, which has brought wealth to auction houses and some artists over the past five years, is coming gently and quietly to an end.

Observers have been waiting for these few days where auction houses hold their high-profile contemporary art sales to take the temperature of the market. And, if it has not plummeted, then it is, finally, showing a dip.

Yesterday the day sale of contemporary art at Sotheby's saw only 58.6% of its lots sold. The auction raised £7.1m, well short of its pre-sale estimate of £10.9m to £15.3m. The day sales tend to auction work by younger, less established artists - it is the evening sales where the big guns come out, and the well-groomed clientele, not to mention the staff, are dressed as if for a night at the opera. But even there, while the numbers are big, they are on the slide. Sotheby's big contemporary and modern art evening sale made £22.8m well short of its estimate of £30.6m. Fifteen of the 62 lots failed to sell. Two had been withdrawn from the auction before it began. It was a far cry from the feeding frenzy of 2007, when record after record came crashing down in the salerooms.

The auctioneer, the suave, assured Oliver Barker, conducted the sale as if there was nothing wrong: but when the star lot of the evening came up a set of 10 skull paintings by Andy Warhol a frisson went through the room as the bidding paused, stagnated and finally stuck altogether at £3.5m.

The final price, once the so-called buyer's premium was added, was £4.35m; the estimate had been £5m to £7m. The work sold, none the less Sotheby's admitted having renegotiated lower reserve prices with the sellers (known as consigners). "We did it on a lot-by-lot basis," said Barker after the sale. "Most people gave us flexibility." He called the bidding on the sale "very rational and very considered".

Christie's Sunday evening sale told a similar story. The auction made a total of £31.97m, but of the 47 lots only 26 sold. Serious works of art such as a Francis Bacon portrait of Henrietta Moraes, and Jean-Michel Basquiat's Desmond failed to reach their reserves.

The star work of the night was Lucian Freud's portrait of Francis Bacon. It sold for £5.4m inside its estimate of £5m to £7m though "still astronomical money", according to Sarah Thornton, an art market observer.

After the sale the Christie's bosses put on a brave face. Chief executive Ed Dolman said: "The sale wasn't as successful as last season's [2007's equivalent made a record-breaking £33.9m] and we are perhaps seeing a correction from the past few seasons. But there is significant liquidity and a surprising amount of activity when a lot of people thought there would be no activity at all. The real message is one of cautious optimism. The turbulence hasn't hit our market as much as it has in other areas. There has been a surprising amount of cash moving round the market in the past few days, especially in terms of Chinese and Middle Eastern art. This gives us a belief that the new buyers who have emerged are here, and here to stay."

The new buyers propping up the market include super-wealthy Russian and Qatari collectors, relatively insulated from the turbulence caused by the banking crisis. "When the sub-prime problems kicked in last summer I noticed fewer bidders at auctions but the Qataris and people like Roman Abramovich had joined the game," said Thornton, who believes that the art market peaked in the summer of last year. "People were shocked when it was revealed that Abramovich had bought the Bacons [two works, a portrait and a triptych, collectively worth £60m] earlier this year. But I do feel that May 2007 was the last time that eyes were really popping at prices."

Amy Cappellazzo, of Christie's, was upbeat. "I think this was a staggering result given the other financial markets. It's pretty amazing that people still want to turn up on a Sunday and kick out a million bucks." The key, she said, was that art gives the investor a tangible object. "If you bought something, you bought something real."





Portrait of Bacon sells for £5.4m but painting by Bacon fails to sell






                   Lucien Freud's unfinished portrait of Francis Bacon



AN UNFINISHED portrait of Francis Bacon by Lucian Freud, one of only two he ever painted of his friend and the only one whose whereabouts is known, sold for £5.4 million pounds (€6.96 million) in London yesterday.

However, a Francis Bacon painting which was expected to fetch up €10 million at Christie's in London was one of a number of works which failed to sell.

The Portrait of Henrietta Moraes had a presale low estimate of £5.5 million (€7.08 million).

Christie's International failed to sell 45 per cent of works on sale because of the depressed international art market. "Obviously we need to adjust our prices," said Ed Dolman, Christie's chief executive officer. "There isn't too much confidence out there."

The unsold Bacon work was bought by Guinness heir Garech Browne for his home at Luggala, Co Wicklow in 1970. At one stage it was the only Bacon painting in Ireland, despite the artist being born in Dublin. Browne, a 69-year-old who founded Claddagh Records, was a friend of Bacon and Moraes. He has long been a patron of the arts.

Moraes was a famous 1960s model and socialite who was one of Bacon's favourite subjects. The painting is one of his first portraits of her. It is signed on the back by Moraes: "For the first time a vision of me by my friend Francis Bacon, Henrietta Moraes. "Mr Browne decided to sell the painting because it was too valuable to insure and keep at his estate.

He lent the painting to the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery in Dublin. He also secured the Francis Bacon studio for the gallery through his friendship with Bacon's former lover John Edwards.

© 2008 The Irish Times





Freud's intimate portrait of his friend Bacon sold for £5.4m











                Lucian Freud's portrait of Bacon



A rarely seen oil portrait of the artist Francis Bacon, painted by his friend Lucian Freud, has been sold for £5.4m. The work, which offers an intimate glimpse into the collaborative friendship of two giants of post-war art, is one of only two oil portraits of Bacon painted by Freud and the last remaining: the second was stolen from an exhibition in Berlin in 1988.

The portrait, estimated to sell for between £5m to £7m at Christie's auction house in London, was painted in 1956 and shows the artist with a downward gaze. Bacon, who sat knee-to-knee with Freud while he worked on the painting, is said to have "grumbled but sat consistently" during the first six months of sitting, according to Christie's. It is thought Bacon left suddenly, most likely to pursue his lover, Peter Lacy, in Tangiers.

Although it remained unfinished, art critics agree it offers a snapshot into the working methods of the younger artist at a critical point of his development; Freud had begun to work in a more expansive way, using thicker brushstrokes, liberating the paint and creating a more worked complexion, more seasoned and full of life.

The portrait was part of Christie's sale of post-war and contemporary art. The auction may come to mark a turning point in the fortunes of the art market, which has until now defied the economic downturn. Of 47 lots, only 26 were sold and the sale made £32m, against pre-auction estimates of £57m to £75m.

By contrast, the record for a painting by Freud was set at Christie's in May, with his naked, large-scale work, Benefit Supervisor Sleeping, selling for £17.3m. The record for a Bacon work stands at £43m, for Triptych, created in 1976.

The Bacon portrait sold yesterday was acquired in 1972 by a private collector from a London gallery and had remained in the same hands since.

Graham Sutherland, a mutual friend and artist, introduced Freud to Bacon in 1945, inviting them to his house. They formed a close friendship and saw much of one another in the following years.

Bacon had a great influence on the younger Freud and is often credited with liberating his style and fuelling his desire to depict human life.

In the early 1950s, the artists sat for each other; Bacon's first portrait of Freud came in 1951, and many others followed. Freud painted Bacon just twice.






Growing signs of art slump as Freud's portrait of Bacon makes only £5.4m



Munch, Bacon and Warhol at Sotheby's Show



Marina Kamenev, The Moscow Times, Issue 4011, 16 October 2008


There was little evidence of the financial crisis inside the new branch of the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, at Gogolevsky Bulvar, where Sotheby's preview of its upcoming November auctions is exhibited.

"Some of you may have seen or read that we have economic trouble in the world. But I can assure that we are here to stay. We love Russia, and we will come here in good times and not so good times," said Lord Mark Poltimore, chairman of Sotheby's Russia. "One thing I can assure you is that good art correctly priced will always make good prices."

Inside are 50 works, most from the 20th century, from artists including Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso, altogether valued at $200 to $300 million. The works will be sold at auctions in New York in November.

In the last two years, Russia's buyers have helped Sotheby's break world records for art sold at auction. Earlier this year, Francis Bacon's painting Triptych, 1976 was bought by Roman Abramovich for $86 million. Sotheby's is predicting that Russia's art market will continue to blossom. "We are not just being optimistic, we are certain of our success," said Mikhail Kamensky, the general director of Sotheby's in Russia and the C.I.S.

Norwegian expressionist Edvard Munch's painting Love and Pain is a rare find, as most of Munch's works are already housed in museums in Scandinavia. The painting of a pale red-headed woman leaning over and passionately clutching a man on her lap is expected to sell for $30 to $40 million.

The auction will also offer documents belonging to the first cosmonaut, Yury Gagarin. One of them is the account of a manned space flight performed by the Soviet spaceship Vostok on April 12, 1961. The documents were previously owned by businessman Ross Perot, but he is selling the letters and diaries to support a fund for space research.

Kamensky said Gagarin's words before his space mission encapsulated the feeling at Sotheby's. "I feel completely ready for the upcoming flight, my health is good, and I don't doubt the success of this flight."

Sotheby's top lots from the main New York autumn auctions runs to Sun. at The State Museum of Modern Art of Russian Academy of Arts, located at 10 Gogolevsky Bulvar, M. Kropotkinskaya.





Francis Bacon painting by Lucian Freud expected to fetch £7m at Christie's auction


By Stephen Adams, Arts Correspondent, The Daily Telegraph, Tuesday 14, October, 2008



Francis Bacon by Lucien Freud. The painting is expected to raise £7 million at auction



A portrait of the painter Francis Bacon by his friend and colleague Lucian Freud is expected to sell for up to £7 million at auction this week even though it was never finished.

Bacon abandoned sitting for Freud before he could complete the study, which was undertaken over three months in 1956-7. Bacon, who died in 1992, is said to have "grumbled but sat consistently".

It is only one of two oil paintings that Freud ever undertook of Bacon, despite a friendship that lasted for decades.

The other, which Freud painted in 1952, was stolen from the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin in 1988 while on loan from the Tate. It has never been found.

Christie's put the picture on display on Tuesday, ahead of its auction on Sunday evening.

Pilar Ordovas, head of post-war and contemporary art at Christie's London, said: "This incredibly rare painting is one of the highlights of a week in which the international art world will turn their attention to London, and in which we will offer an exciting selection of post-war and contemporary art at Christie's."

The Frieze Art Fair starts on Thursday, while Christie's rival Sotheby's is also holding two major auctions over the next week.

Works by both Freud and Bacon, both British artists, have broken auction records this year. Freud's Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, of an overweight JobCentre worker asleep on a sofa, sold for $33.6 million (£19.1 million) in New York in May, a record for a living artist.

Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich bought a triptych by Bacon the same month for $86 million (£48.9 million), a record for a piece of contemporary art at auction.




The modern Irish master



You don’t have to travel all the way to the Tate Britain in London to see a unique piece of Francis Bacon’s legacy, says Caroline O’Leary



Trinity News, Ireland's oldest college newspaper, Monday 13 October, 2008


As a country, Ireland prides itself on its cultural talent, having produced four Nobel Prize winners for literature and many important figures in the areas of acting, theatre, film, poetry and more. Yet few Irish artists have truly succeeded in making their mark on the world canvas and distinguishing themselves outside of their home country. Painter Francis Bacon is a unique exception to this rule, an artist of such talent and innovation that his works are now almost equal in value to those of masters Pablo Picasso and Claude Monet.

Such is Bacon’s success that last year his work Triptych, 1976 sold at Sotheby’s auction house for a post-war record of €56.465 million, making it the twelfth most expensive painting ever sold. In celebration of Bacon and his career, a major retrospective exhibition of his work is now on show at the Tate Britain in London, coinciding with the centenary of the artist’s birth next year. This exhibition, the first since Bacon’s death in 1992, is a cross-section of the artist’s life and works, celebrating his unique talent and inspiring us to examine the life and painting of this enigmatic artist who we seem to so rarely notice.

At first glance, there is something about Bacon’s work that intrigues the viewer. Triptych - August 1972 is a quintessential example of his technique. The flat, stark backgrounds throw the distorted foreground figures into high relief and expose the full extent of twisted limbs, gaping mouths and staring eyes. Curator of the Tate exhibition, Chris Stephens, describes Bacon as “probably the most important painter of the human figure ever.” Yet, as with Bacon’s greatest inspiration, Picasso, it is not the figures themselves that draw the viewer in but rather their unsettling manipulation. Such manipulation ranges from distorted limbs and features to the dissection of certain figures, exposing not only the blood and tissue that is common to man and animal but also the vulnerability they share.

A Francis Bacon painting is difficult to mistake, or, indeed, avoid and the artist was capable of both repulsing and fascinating the viewer – a rare ability possessed only by a few artists, such as master of surrealism, Salvador Dali. Also affecting the viewer is the texture of his works, a result of his preference for painting on the unprimed side of canvas and enhanced by his own deliberate “printing” with materials such as cotton, corduroy and cashmere. Looking at these paintings, you are transported into Bacon’s own garish world.

Bacon’s rather extraordinary life explains somewhat the inspiration behind both the artist’s subjects and his innovative techniques. Born in Dublin to English parents in 1909, his life reads like a bizarre, hedonistic soap opera. At the age of 16, he was banished from his Naas family home after being caught by his father cross-dressing in his mother’s underwear, the final nail in an already strained relationship with his family due to his homosexuality. Bacon then worked his way around London and later Europe, advertising himself as a “gentleman’s companion.”

The cultural influences of Paris and Berlin, specifically exhibitions of artists such as Picasso and Nicolas Poussin, eventually inspired him to return to London and take up painting. Seemingly entirely self-taught, Bacon first began a business as a furniture designer and interior decorator before moving onto oil paintings and rugs with the support of well-connected friends.

His first and most important painting of that time was Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, 1944, which established his signature style with its burnt orange backgrounds and stone gray monstrous figures. Based on the furies of ancient Greek mythology, the biomorphic quality of these characters are an obvious allusion to Picasso’s own distorted figures. The painting was both acclaimed for its originality and feared for its grotesque and unnerving creatures, the like of which had not been seen in art before.

Bacon’s talent and technique – and, thus, his acclaim – evolved steadily, but his personal life continued to be blighted with misfortune, something identifiable in his work. In particular, the suicide of his partner and muse George Dyer on the eve of his first major retrospective exhibition in 1973 can be seen in pieces such as In Memory of George Dyer and May-June 1973. In the latter, lost, shadowed figures of his former lover are presented in different poses and guises, expressing the figure’s dark, unhappy life and Bacon’s own grief at his loss. Less personal subjects were also dealt with in great detail, as can be seen in some of his most celebrated paintings, such as his series of studies based on Velázquez’s famous Portrait of Pope Innocent X.

After experiencing a difficult childhood in Ireland, Bacon was not a frequent visitor to his birth country. Yet, despite his constant travelling and home-base in London, his former partner John Edwards bequeathed the entire contents of Bacon’s studio to the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin after his death. Draft material and papers, originally gifted to friend Barry Joule, were later donated to form the Barry Joule Archive in Dublin. These materials, particularly the studio, delighted critics by offing unprecedented insight into Bacon’s method, techniques and eccentricities. In his studio, one can find piles of paint cans, pastels, crumpled photographs with creases coloured in and even the paint-stained walls of the room, which he frequently used instead of palettes.

The most real part of Bacon, in a sense, then, can be found in Dublin and, while his Tate exhibition will soon leave for Spain and New York, this studio will remain in the city and allow us to enjoy the genius of Ireland’s greatest artist.  




On the giants' causeway



Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon and the agonies of sitting



Economist, October 11th 2008


LUCIAN FREUD and Francis Bacon, the two giants of post-war British painting, met in 1945. Bacon was 36, Mr Freud not even 23. Mr Freud had heard about the mysterious and distinctive Irish-born artist from Graham Sutherland. Shortly afterwards, Sutherland invited them both to spend the weekend at his English country house, and they met at the railway station on the way there. An intense bond quickly developed. “Once I met him I saw him a lot,” Mr Freud would recall later.


Close friends, it was inevitable that sooner or later each would begin to appear in the other’s paintings. Mr Freud was called to the studio for his first portrait by Bacon in 1951. This was unusual, as Bacon usually preferred working from secondary media, such as photographs.

Mr Freud quickly discovered why. When he returned to the studio after his first sitting, he found that in his absence the portrait had metamorphosed into something quite different; it now looked very much like the snapshot of the Prague-born early 20th-century writer, Franz Kafka, that was to be found among the debris littering the floor where Bacon worked.

Bacon’s freewheeling approach to portraiture, so visible in his intimate rendition of another larger-than-life character, Henrietta Moraes (pictured), was something that intrigued Freud deeply.


Throughout his 20s, Mr Freud painted in a meticulous, painstaking way, often using unusually fine sable-hair brushes. He liked to sit while he painted. But in 1954, he began to paint standing at his easel, something he still does today, even at the age of 85. He also began using thicker, hog’s hair brushes and stopped relying on underdrawing. All of these changes encouraged a style of painting that was far more spontaneous and direct.

Mr Freud’s friendship with the ever-moving Bacon was crucial to this. Later Mr Freud would recall that Bacon talked about “packing a lot of things into one single brushstroke, which amused and excited me, and I realised that was a million miles from anything I could ever do.” That did not stop him trying, though.






Mr Freud’s two portraits of Francis Bacon emphasise how much the younger artist was trying to change. The compositions are very similar. But in the 1952 work the influence of drawing has the effect of making the painting more fixed, less free; as in the curling combed hair, the cleft of the lips and the lines under the left eye. Mr Freud took three months to paint that portrait. The two men sat knee to knee, Bacon looking downwards (the same pose that had appeared a year earlier in a drawing Mr Freud made of his friend). Bacon, notoriously restless, “grumbled but sat consistently”.


Four years later Mr Freud began a second painting (pictured above). Although incomplete, there is already a remarkable stillness in the features. Again Bacon is looking down. It could be for a second or even an hour; there is no way of knowing. He looks a little jaded, made worse by the use of greens and yellows. Indeed the whole atmosphere of the face is created out of a rich palette of delicate colour, especially around the eyelids and eyelashes. 

 “I would wish my portraits to be of the people, not like them,” Mr Freud would say years later. “Not having a look of the sitter, being them. I didn’t want to get just a likeness like a mimic, but to portray them, like an actor. As far as I am concerned the paint is the person. I want it to work for me just as flesh does.”


Mr Freud’s 1952 portrait of Bacon was bought by the Tate Gallery. In 1988, while on loan to an exhibition in Berlin, it was stolen. It has never been recovered. The portrait that Mr Freud began in 1956 remains his only surviving painting of Bacon. The older artist, ever restless, abandoned sitting for this work to pursue his lover, Peter Lacy, to Tangier. It was never finished.

Portrait of Henrietta Moraes by Francis Bacon will be sold at Christie’s on October 19th. The estimate is £5.5m-7.5m ($9.5m-13m). Francis Bacon by Lucian Freud is in the same sale, estimate £5m-7m.





Francis Bacon Meets New Brutalism at Tate Britain




Zaha Hadid, Patrick Hodgkinson and others debated art and architecture.




Text  By Ned Beauman | Dazed Digital | 09 October 2008



            Francis Bacon Triptych - In Memory of George Dyer 1971 Fondation Beyeler, Basel



“Architecture students,” said my friend as we left this Architecture Foundation talk at Tate Britain, “are like fashion students, but with brains,” which is perhaps a bit unfair, but it certainly was a rare treat to see such a fantastically well-designed bunch of kids listening to a panel on such a fantastically abstruse subject – that is, the connection between the art of Francis Bacon and the New Brutalism of the 1960s. On stage were Zaha Hadid, Patrick Hodgkinson (designer of the Brunswick Centre), Tony Fretton (designer of the Lisson Gallery), architectural historian Joe Kerr, and cultural critic Mark Cousins, who gave a short but thought-provoking keynote.

When we see an expression of sadness on a human face, Cousins said, we imagine that somehow the sadness goes all the way down. But if that face has a wound, which reveals nothing but blood and flesh and bone underneath, then it undermines that apparent depth of representation. "Of course, we are meat," said Bacon, "we are potential carcasses", and Cousins argued that meat in Bacon’s paintings is the collapse of signification. We call it ugly as a sort of Freudian defence mechanism because we are so unnerved by that collapse, and the same is true of raw concrete in brutalist architecture. "If, like Bacon, you can propel the spectator into the midst of meat and find it essentially human," concluded Cousins, "then you can dispel some of the defences which disable public taste."

The discussion that followed was fascinating, if diffuse. Hadid, for some reason, started off by pretending she was going to be an awkward grump, but then pitched in enthusiastically, while 77-year-old Hodgkinson gave a memorable account of his development from painter to architect. Asked about the unpopularity of the original Brunswick Centre, he replied that words like ‘Brutalism’ refer only to the look of a building, which, to him, is unimportant compared to the feeling of living inside one. "Beauty and ugliness are in the eye of a beholder," he said, confirming an earlier point of Kerr’s: "That public taste is frequently wrong is an absolute axiom for architects." By the end, the five had barely touched on Texture, the supposed theme of the talk, but it didn’t matter. I’ll be back at Tate Britain on October 22 for Back to the City the second panel in the series, where Nigel Coates, Joseph Rykwert, and Ken Livingstone – three pictures of whom my housemate has still refused to take down from our fridge, five months after his election defeat – will talk about Bacon as a "consummate urbanite".





Photographer Jane Bown: 'I was rather frightened of Francis Bacon'



Jane Bown took her first portrait for the Observer in 1949.


Here, she talks about what it was like photographing the artist Francis Bacon in his London studio


The Guardian, Wednesday October 8 2008






I preferred working on my own as I was able to do with Francis Bacon. I photographed him in Reece Mews in a studio he used all his life next to the pub: bad light, lots of cobwebs, dirt - the light was bad  - it was all very murky dirty and dusty and crammed with, 'em -  paintings I suppose. I was rather frightened of them I think - didn't quite know what to do with him, there wasn't much I could do except but use that back-drop of his paint brushes, and mugs and the mirror, which was rounded and I worked on trying to get his round face against the round mirror, he had an amazing face; it wasn't easy; I think he was reluctant.  

I think I suppose there was plenty to work on here but difficult to get it against, I mean almost an Aladin Cave of goodies really but 'em, I don't think I made the most of it until I got him outside. We went down his stairs and, 'em he opened a stable door, and 'eh, it was quite amazing cos' the light came in, his face lit up - it was magic; and that's how I saw him - I could really see into his eyes, I saw more than I saw the rest of the morning - I was shy of him in away I did not know for the best because there's too much to do; it wasn't instant; some of the best jobs when I go in  is instant, I get it right away I didn't know what to do with him it didn't feel quite right all the time - until we went out to the stable door.








Francis Bacon
Invisible Histories


Tate Britain Symposia


Thursday 23 October 2008, 15.00–21.00
Friday 24 October 2008, 10.00–17.30

Tate Britain Auditorium
£40 (£30 concessions), booking recommended
Includes a private view of the exhibition on Thursday evening. 


Since Francis Bacon died in 1992 his reputation increases in stature and his paintings continue to break auction house records. But what is the state of Bacon scholarship and what do we know of Bacon's practice now in the light of new information revealed in his studio and archive? What new knowledge of his working process has conservation research revealed? This conference brings together curators, critics and academics to discuss Bacon the artist, his working methods and the curatorial approaches that have emerged around his work.

Keynote Lecture, Thursday 23 October:

Martin Harrison, editor of Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné and author of In Camera: Francis Bacon.

to coincide with the launch of his new book Incunabula.

This will be celebrated with a wine reception and Private View of the Francis Bacon Exhibition on this evening.


Other Speakers Include:

Dawn Ades, Professor of Art History and Theory, University of Essex

Andrew Brighton, author of Francis Bacon, Tate Publishing

Richard Calvocoressi, Director, Henry Moore Foundation

Nicholas Chare, Leverhulme Research Fellow in History of Art, Reading University

Matthew Gale, Head of Displays and Curator of Modern Art, Tate Modern and co-curator of the Francis Bacon exhibition

Martin Hammer, reader of History of Art, Edinburgh University, author of Bacon and Sutherland

Richard Hornsey, lecturer of Cultural Studies, University of the West of England and author of Francis Bacon and the Photobooth: Facing the Homosexual in Post-war Britain

Norma Johnson, Conservator, Estate of Francis Bacon

Bettina Kaufman, Curator, Tate Britain

David Mellor, Professor of History of Art, Sussex University

Simon Ofield, Dean of Art, Design and Architecture, Kingston University

Chris Stephens, Head of Displays and Curator of Modern British Art, Tate Britain, and co-curator of the Francis Bacon exhibition  




Thursday 23 October    Session 1

15.0                 Welcome – Victoria Walsh

15.05                David Mellor - Framing Bacon: Historiographic Structures

15.30                Chris Stephens - Francis Bacon – A Curatorial Perspective

16.00                Richard Calvocoressi - ‘Portraits and Heads’ The exhibition

16.30                Panel Discussion and Questions

17.15                Keynote Lecture: Martin Harrison -  Francis Bacon: Rien ne va plus

18.00                Respondent: Andrew Brighton

18.15                Questions and discussion / Chair: Matthew Gale

18.30-20.30       Private View / Reception to mark the publication of Martin Harrison’s Francis Bacon: Incunabula


Friday 24 October   10.00-12.30     Session Two   

Introduction – Victoria Walsh

Andrew Brighton - Bacon in the 1930s

Rebecca Daniels - Francis Bacon and Walter Sickert: the very essence of the thing

Nicholas Chare - 'The reek of human blood smiles out at me': Attending to the Synaesthetic in Francis Bacon's Paintings


Panel Discussion and Questions / Chair: Chris Stephens

13.30-15.30       Session Three

Alistair O’Neill - Francis Bacon: Performing the City

Richard Hornsey - Bacon's Trial by Photobooth

Margarita Cappock - Bacon and his Studio

Panel Discussion and Questions


16.00-17.00       Session Four

Barbara Dawson – The Bacon Archive Project at the Hugh Lane (tbc)

Bettina Kaufmann – The Bacon and Sylvester Interviews

Martin Hammer - Avenues from Bacon and Sutherland

Chair: Gary Tinterow



17.00-18.00       Session Five

Martin Harrison

Richard Calvocoressi 

Matthew Gale

Chair: Dawn Ades


18.00-19.30       End and Reception

This event is related to the Francis Bacon exhibition





Architecture and Design in the Bacon Era


Mark Cousins, Zaha Hadid, Tony Fretton, Patrick Hodgkinson and Joe Kerr (Chair)


Tate Britain  Auditorium
£7 (£5 concessions), booking recommended
Members of The Architecture Foundation entitled to concessionary price.



Wednesday 1 October 2008, 19.00–21.00


New Brutalism championed materiality and a fascination with the harsh, the substantial and the rough. The discovery of ‘beauty’ in ‘ugliness’ arguably parallels Bacon’s ability to make stark images seductive, and indeed brutal, as he revelled in the texture of paint itself. Architects Zaha Hadid and Tony Fretton will be joined architectural theorist Mark Cousins and Patrick Hodgkinson, architect of one of London’s key Brutalist structures, the Brunswick Centre, to explore these ideas.

Organised by The Architecture Foundation and Tate Britain.  Supported by the Estate of Francis Bacon.  

This event is related to the Francis Bacon exhibition




Hugh Davies on Francis Bacon


Tate Britain  Auditorium
£4, booking recommended

Friday 17 October 2008, 13.00–14.00


Following the suicide of his lover George Dyer in 1971, Francis Bacon embarked on a series of paintings known as the 'Black Triptychs'.

Hugh Davies, Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego, has described these paintings as the 'frenzied momentum of a struggle against death' and discusses them in light of his 1973 interview with Bacon.

This event is related to the Francis Bacon exhibition





Architecture and Design in the Bacon Era


Back to the City
Joseph Rykwert, Ken Livingstone, Nigel Coates and Denise Scott Brown


Tate Britain  Auditorium
£7 (£5 concessions), booking recommended
Price includes drinks afterwards
Members of The Architecture Foundation entitled to concessionary price

Wednesday 22 October 2008, 19.00–21.00

Bacon was a consummate urban resident, as a Soho drinking club stalwart he revelled in the violence and structured chaos of urban existence. His city was a place of conflict between the illicit and the public, whose versatility he used as a place to hide and a substance to exploit. With the destruction of World War II as a backdrop, city life blossomed, beginning a re-discovery of the urban that continues today. This panel, featuring eminent architectural historian Joseph Rykwert, experimental architect Nigel Coates and former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, will look at how urbanity grew to its present condition, where more than half the world’s population lives in cities.

Organised by The Architecture Foundation and Tate Britain. Supported by the Estate of Francis Bacon.

This event is related to the Francis Bacon exhibition




Dead Sexy

Maggi Hambling on Francis Bacon



Tate Britain  Auditorium
£4, booking recommended

Wednesday 29 October 2008, 13.00–14.00


Distinguished artist Maggi Hambling talks on the life and times of Francis Bacon and his importance to contemporary art. Henrietta Moraes, queen of Soho in the 1950s, was both model and muse to Bacon then and to Hambling later. Hambling has said 'when you look at a Bacon, you are confronted by life and death simultaneously. That is the power'.

This event is related to the Francis Bacon exhibition



Richard Cork on Francis Bacon


Tate Britain  Auditorium
£4, booking recommended

Friday 14 November 2008, 13.00–14.00


Join critic and writer Richard Cork for a personal recollection of his experience of Francis Bacon, and learn of his astonishment when he discovered that the man who had created those pictures, with their violent and obsessive emphasis on screaming or struggling figures, was in reality so warm, communicative and hospitable.


This event is related to the Francis Bacon exhibition




Michael Peppiatt

The Sacred and the Profane


Tate Britain  Manton Studio
£7 (£5 concessions)

Friday 14 November 2008, 18.30–20.00


Michael Peppiatt, a renowned Bacon scholar, friend of the artist and author of the definitive account of his life and work, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, will be discussing what he believes to be a paradox at the heart of Bacons work - as an outspoken atheist, why was Bacon obsessively drawn to the highly charged symbols of the Christian faith, namely the Crucifixion and the Pope as well as to the great classical myths?

This event is related to the Francis Bacon exhibition



Bacon's London


Tate Britain  Manton Studio
£20 (£15 concessions), booking required
Price includes refreshments

Thursday 20 November 2008, 14.00–17.30


Bacon began his life in London as an interior designer but quickly abandoned this career to pursue painting, immersing himself in the London art scene. A regular at the colony club and a keen gambler, Bacon was in close contact with a numerous city characters and artists including Lucien Freud, Frank Auerbach and John Deakin.

The exhibition's co-curator, Chris Stephens and Tate archivist Adrian Glew, examine letters, photographs and other original archive material to learn more about Bacon and his life in the City.

This event is related to the Francis Bacon exhibition




Folie à Deux: Bacon and Deleuze


Tate Britain  Manton Studio
£20 (£15 concessions), booking required
Price includes refreshments

Saturday 29 November 2008, 14.00–17.00


Francis Bacon's isolated figures and distorted faces were analysed by Gilles Deleuze and from this he developed a series of philosophical concepts that have produced some of the most creative and challenging approaches to painting and aesthetics. Dr Simon O'Sullivan, Dr Darren Ambrose, Margarita Gluzberg and Andrew Conio discuss how this entanglement has fashioned new ways of understanding painting and writing, producing ideas that have had an impact far beyond the domains of aesthetics and philosophy.

Supported by Wolverhampton University

This event is related to the Francis Bacon exhibition



Contemporary Artists on Bacon


Tate Britain  Auditorium
£10 (£8 concessions), booking recommended
Price includes drinks afterwards

Wednesday 10 December 2008, 18.30–20.00

As Francis Bacon's influence and legacy fall under the spotlight with Tate Britain's major retrospective, this evening discussion asks Maggi Hambling, Jenny Saville and Nigel Cooke to share their views and relationship to the painter. They offer an artists perspective into what makes Bacon "One of the greatest painters of all time".

Francis Bacon sponsored by Bank of America

This event is related to the Francis Bacon exhibition





Liver, By Will Self




Talking about degeneration in a city of bile  


Reviewed by Nicholas Royle


The Independent, Friday, 10 October 2008


Is it a novel? Is it a collection of short stories or a quartet of novellas? It is none of these things. Liver is a "fictional organ with a surface anatomy of four lobes". "Foie Humaine" begins on territory familiar to fans of Self's The Sweet Smell of Psychosis, but the Plantation Club, hidden up a Soho alley, has more in common with the real Colony Room than the fictional Sealink Club in the earlier novella. The Plantation's regulars go by nicknames – the Martian, the Extra, the Cunt, the Poof – and are a mixed bag of publishers, columnists, actors and general roués united in their respect only for world-famous painter and fellow-member Trouget, routinely rude landlord Val Carmichael. For Trouget (with his "weird young-old face"), read Francis Bacon, while Val heads up the equivalent of the bar once run by Muriel Belcher and Ian Board.

The story charts the devastating effects of alcohol on the liver, specifically in relation to Hilary, Val's barman. Every time his back is turned, his boss spikes his lager with vodka. This dissolute version of gavage – what poultry farmers in the Dordogne do to their geese – is a cruel sport and it's hard to see what Val's motivation might be. But all becomes clear. Sort of.

The characters are for the most part grotesque caricatures, yet somehow living and breathing. For all the extravagant, cartoonish hideousness of the worlds many of Self's characters inhabit – from Soho drinking clubs to Kensington crack houses – life remains something precious. "Prometheus" recycles Ancient Greek myths, just as the liver recycles old red blood cells. In an accelerated narrative set against London's adland, Zeus is an entrepreneur with his finger in many pies – but his Vauxhall penthouse will remind readers of a certain disgraced Tory peer's. The book closes with "Birdy Num Num", a vivid cautionary tale about not only the horrors of addiction to hard drugs, but also the concomitant danger of coming into contact with deadly viruses, especially HIV.

Self's London has the qualities of the eponymous vital organ: "a metropolis that had itself been breaking down cultural toxins and processing rich nutrients for two millennia, yet could only do so by manufacturing hectolitres of bile". The best piece, however, is "Leberknödel", in which Joyce, a former hospital administrator with liver cancer, flies to Zürich intending to "die with dignity". Confronted by the "absolute horror of suicide", she changes her mind, and starts – miraculously, perhaps – to get better. It's the best fictional writing on Zürich since Kim Stanley Robinson's story named after the city, but also a bold a take on a relationship between mother and daughter, with one very, very odd line in it.

Nicholas Royle's new novella, The Enigma of Departure, is published by PS Publishing





Francis Bacon painting sells for £14,400



Daily Mirror, 8/10/2008







This is the fragment of a Francis Bacon painting that has been sold for an amazing £14,500.


The 31in x 10in scrap of mutilated canvas shows what appears to be part of a foot against a black background. The Dublin-born artist destroyed the picture in 1985, seven years before his death at 82.


Auctioneer Chris Ewbank, who oversaw the sale in Woking, Surrey, said yesterday: "It seems a lot to pay for only part of a painting but the buyer was determined to own something by Bacon."


In May, a Bacon painting sold for £49million in New York, a record for a contemporary art auction.




 Sale SEP08A  Lot 509 





Francis Bacon, 1909-1992, oil on canvas, part of one of Bacon's "destroyed" canvases, circa 1985. The canvas shows what appears to be a "pool of flesh" spread across a black background with a straight dividing line on one side marking the defined edge of a small unpainted area. The use of black as a background was frequently employed by Bacon at this time particularly as a background for figures, and there are many examples of "pools" emanating from his subjects. Examples include Portrait of John Edwards 1988 and Triptych - August 1972 (George Dyer) both of which also incorporate black backgrounds. 10" x 31.5"

Provenance; The vendor was a young art graduate and artist working at the time for Chelsea Art Stores. He often served the artist when he came into the shop between 1984 and 1987. Bacon was well-known for slashing and mutilating the canvas of pictures he was not satisfied with and would return some of the destroyed canvases to the shop to be re-stretched. It was from one of these that, with the artist's knowledge, the vendor saved this particular section "as a souvenir". It was part of a larger piece of irregular shaped canvas which, because of slashes and damage, the vendor cut to size and framed in a rectangular form.

As an art graduate, the young man would talk to Bacon on occasions about the artist's techniques and materials he employed. On one occasion he mentioned to Bacon that to paint in oils on to the raw side of the primed linen as was Bacon's practice, would be damaging to the longevity of his work. The simple reply was "I couldn't give a ****."!

The lot was submitted to the Estate of Francis Bacon for authentication in 2006 and is sold with a letter confirming its authenticity from the Francis Bacon Committee.

Estimate £ 10,000-15,000

No damage in good condition






Francis Bacon (1909 - 1992)



Linda Nochlin, Milan Kundera and others on Francis Bacon 



To coincide with the Bacon retrospective at Tate Britain, we bring together a mix of writers, museum directors, artists, musicians and film-makers - some of whom knew him and some who came to his work through art books or exhibitions - to pay homage.



TATEetc, Issue 14 / Autumn 2008



Francis Bacon's studio with his last painting, possibly the beginnings of a portrait of George Dyer, on the easel, photographed by Perry Ogden in 1992



“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 re-read Aeschylus, I tried to create images of the sensations that some 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. When I look at grass, sometimes I feel like pulling out a clump and transplanting it inside a frame, but of course that would not 'work', and we are rightly forced to invent methods by which reality can force itself upon our nervous system in a new way, yet without losing sight of the model’s objectivity.”

— Francis Bacon, letter to Michel Leiris, 20 November 1981




      Middle Panel of Triptych - In Memory of George Dyer 1971
                     Francis Bacon  Oil on canvas  198x147.5cm



Linda Nochlin on Triptych – May–June 1973


Francis Bacon created this ambitious Triptych in May and June of 1973. In the artist’s terms, as scrupulously articulated in the letter to the French critic Michel Leiris cited above, it is certainly a realist work, although it hardly corresponds to less personal definitions of realism. Its iconography refers to a real event, the death of his lover; its mode of expression to the visceral profundity – Bacon’s reality – of the effect produced by this terrible occurrence.

It was in the late 1960s and 1970s that Bacon created his series of triptychs, not all of them completely successful, but many of them powerful and disturbingly original. According to the French theorist Gilles Deleuze in his Francis Bacon: Logique de la sensation (Francis Bacon: the Logic of Sensation, 1981), the triptych form enabled the artist to engage with the human figure without being drawn into the conventional storytelling mode. “It’s not only that the painting is an isolated reality, and not only that the triptych consists of three isolated panels and the fundamental rule that they never be united into a single frame: it’s rather that the Figure itself is isolated in the painting… And Bacon has often told us why: in order to avoid the figurative, illustrative and narrative character that the Figure would necessarily assume if it weren’t in isolation.”

In this work, however, one of the most memorable of the great triptychs of the 1970s, Bacon is less set than usual on staving off the demon narrative. Here, contrary to Deleuze’s assertion that the form serves an isolating function, it seems to me that the images beg to be read as a story, from left to right. And the story, at once personal and melodramatic, is riveting: the suicide, just before the opening of a major retrospective of Bacon’s work in

1971–1972 at the Grand Palais, of George Dyer at the Hôtel des Saint-Pères in Paris. The ignoble furniture of daily recuperation – the toilet, the sink, the starkly singular light bulb – become the instruments of Dyer’s Passion. To the left, he shits; to the right, he vomits; in the centre, he hovers against the black background, which is transmuted into a giant shadow, his shadow. In the opaque darkness, death itself assumes the form, however inchoate, of a giant bat, a consuming demon, a revenging angel. Sex, death and the throes of creation are at one here, as Jean-Claude Lebensztejn pointed out in a brilliant catalogue essay for the 1996 Bacon retrospective at the Centre Pompidou, an extended analysis of the recurrent squirt of white paint streaking across the surface of many of the artist’s most intense canvases of the period. Figured as a kind of materialised sexual spasm, a jet of sperm, the white spurts up in the final, right-hand image of the triptych, in which Dyer, who has overdosed, spews up his soul into the hotel washbasin.

Why this persistent “fear of narrative”, permeating not only Bacon’s own statements about his work – “ 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” – but most of the critical analyses of his work, both pro and con? Almost everyone who has discussed Bacon – most prominently Deleuze, but David Sylvester as well – hastens to defend the artist from charges of illustrativeness, calling attention to his anti-narrative strategies, strategies in which the format of the triptych, the isolation of the human figure and the patent flatness of the pictorial siting play an important role. Yet if one examines the formal structure of Triptych – May–June 1973, one cannot help but be struck by Bacon’s deliberate effort to create connection among the three images, rather than isolation of the individual elements. The human protagonist at various stages of his dying is bound to his tragic fate by the repeated vertical counter­point of the architectonic framework of wooden panelling, a motif that plays against the dynamic curvilinear interjections of the human form and its appurtenances, and is bracketed at either end by a realistic light switch and wire, such as might be found in the Hôtel des Saints-Pères and marks the event’s specific time and place. The story is narrated in terms of this structure, its sequential agonies staged against the repeated greyish blankness of the rug at the bottom of each panel. Certainly in terms of Bacon’s definition of realism, it is a realist work, but, to me, it is a realist narrative as well.

Anti-narrative defensiveness is understandable enough in the context of the heady days of Abstract Expressionism (which Bacon ostensibly hated, but which obviously exerted a certain seductive power on his formal language), an era when “illustration”, “decoration” and “narrative” functioned as the signs of artistic failure. Nobody, however, really explains just why illustration and narration are such terrible sins, temptations to be avoided at all costs. After all, British art, from Hogarth to the Pre-Raphaelites and beyond, has had a considerable positive engagement with narration – and often narration in the service of morality at that.

Perhaps that is why Bacon and his supporters have been particularly keen to separate the artist from this tradition, to make sure that he is seen and judged as a player in the game of international modernism, as a painter whose formal inventiveness and up-to-date kinkiness and anguish sever his work completely from all connection with the fuddy-duddy past of British pictorial history. But this would be a shame, especially in the case of the 1973 Triptych and some of the other ambitious works relating to it, such as Triptych – In Memory of George Dyer (1971), or Triptych – August 1972, also three-part pictures, recalling, however dimly, the religious triptychs of Christian art.

Almost from the beginning, Bacon’s work has been engaged with temporality, making, at the very least, a flirtation with narration almost unavoidable. Or one might say, more accurately, that Bacon’s imagery, his considerable formal gifts and his technical bravura have been harnessed to change – sexual struggle, the metamorphosis of man into meat, or vice versa; the disruption or coagulation of the structure of face and body, the blatant reduction of the dignity of the human form into a trickle or a puddle of paint; and, at the end, time’s grimmest depredation: the horror, bestiality and meaninglessness of death itself.


Milan Kundera

For a long time, Francis Bacon and Samuel Beckett made up a couple in my imaginary gallery of modern art. Then I read the interview Bacon did with Michel Archimbaud: “I’ve always been amazed by this pairing of Beckett and me,” Bacon said. “I’ve always felt that Shakespeare expressed much better and more precisely and more powerfully what Beckett and Joyce were trying to say.” And then later: “I wonder if Beckett’s ideas about his art haven’t wound up killing off his creation. There’s something at once too systematic and too intelligent in him, that may be what’s always bothered me.” And again: “In painting, we always leave in too much that is habit, we never eliminate enough, but in Beckett I’ve often had the sense that as a result of seeking to eliminate, nothing was left any more, and that nothingness finally sounded hollow.”

When one artist talks about another one, he is always talking (indirectly, in a roundabout way) of himself. In talking about Beckett, what is Bacon telling us about him­self? That he is refusing to be categorised. That he wants to protect his work against clichés. Next: that he is resisting the dogmatists of modernism who have erected a barrier between tradition and modern art as if, in the history of art, the latter represented an isolated period with its own incomparable values, with its completely autonomous criteria. Whereas Bacon looks to the history of art in its entirety; the twentieth century does not cancel our debts to Shakespeare.

And further: he is refusing to express his ideas on art in too systematic a fashion, fearing to stifle his creative unconscious; fearing also to allow his art to be turned into a kind of simplistic message. He knows that the danger is all the greater because art is now clogged with a noisy, opaque logorrhoea of theory that prevents a work from coming into direct, media-free contact with its viewer (its reader, its listener). Wherever he can, Bacon therefore blurs his tracks to throw off interpreters who try to reduce his work to an over-facile programme: he bridles at using the word “horror” with regard to his art; he stresses the role of chance in his painting (chance turning up in the course of the work – an accidental spot of paint that abruptly changes the very subject of the picture); he insists on the word “play” when everyone is making much of the seriousness of his paintings. People want to talk about his despair? Very well, but, he specifies immediately, in this case it is a joyous despair.

From the reflection on Beckett quoted, I pull out this remark: “In painting, we always leave in too much that is habit, we never eliminate enough…” Too much that is habit, which is to say: everything in painting that is not the painter’s own discovery, his fresh contribution, his originality; everything that is inherited, routine, filler, elaboration considered to be technical necessity. Almost all great modern artists mean to do away with “filler”, do away with whatever comes from habit, from technical routine, whatever keeps them from getting directly and exclusively at the essential (the essential: the thing the artist himself, and only he, is able to say). So it is with Bacon: the backgrounds of his paintings are hyper-simple, flat-colour; but in the foreground, the bodies are treated with a richness of colours and forms that is all the denser. Now, that (Shakespearian) richness is what matters to him. For without that richness (richness contrasting with the flat-colour background), the beauty would be ascetic, as if “put on a diet”, as if diminished, and for Bacon the issue always and above all is beauty, the explosion of beauty, because even if the word seems nowadays to be hackneyed, out of date, it is what links him to Shakespeare.

Like Bacon, Beckett had no illusions about the future, either of the world or of art. And at that moment in the last days of illusions, both men show the same immensely interesting and significant reaction: wars, revolutions and their setbacks, massacres, the imposture we call democracy – all these subjects are absent from their works. In his Rhinoceros (1959), Ionesco is still interested in the great political questions. Nothing like that in Beckett. Picasso paints Massacre in Korea (1951). An inconceivable subject for Bacon. Living through the end of a civilisation (as Beckett and Bacon were or thought they were), the ultimate brutal confrontation is not with a society, with a state, with a politics, but with the physiological materiality of man. That is why even the great subject of the Crucifixion, which used to concentrate within itself the whole ethics, the whole religion, indeed the whole history of the West, becomes in Bacon’s hands a simple physiological scandal. “I’ve always been very moved by pictures about slaughter­houses and meat, and to me they belong very much to the whole thing of the Crucifixion. There’ve been extraordinary photographs which have been done of animals just being taken up before they were slaughtered; and the smell of death…” To link Jesus nailed to the cross with slaughterhouses and animals’ fear might seem sacrilegious. But Bacon is a non-believer, and the notion of sacrilege has no place in his way of thinking; according to him, “man now realises that he is an accident, that he is a completely futile being, that he has to play out the game without reason”.

Bacon often spied on that workshop of the Creator; it can be seen, for instance, in the pictures called Studies of the Human Body (1970), in which he unmasks the body as a simple “accident”, an accident that could as easily have been fashioned some other way, for instance – I don’t know – with three hands, or with the eyes set in the knees. These are the only pictures of his that fill me with horror. But is “horror” the right word? No. For the sensation that these pictures arouse, there is no right word. What they arouse is not the horror we know, the one in response to the insanities of history, to torture, persecution, war, massacres, suffering. No. This is a different horror: it comes from the accidental nature, suddenly unveiled by the painter, of the human body. © Milan Kundera.


Hugh Davies on Triptych – May–June 1973

Triptych – May–June 1973 is Bacon’s tribute to his friend and lover George Dyer. I saw this painting in his studio over a number of weeks as it was being painted. At the time I was doing my doctoral dissertation on Bacon’s work, so I got to meet and talk with him many times during the course of 1973. The studio was small, so he could do only one panel at a time, and would lean the others against the wall.

This is more or less his record of what happened. In 1971 Dyer committed suicide on the eve of Bacon’s retrospective at the Grand Palais in the Paris hotel in which they were staying. Dyer overdosed from pills and alcohol and, from the evidence in the bathroom, he vomited in the sink. He was found slumped on the toilet. They had two bedrooms with an adjoining bathroom, so Bacon then painted the panels from different perspectives. One is from Dyer’s side and the other is from Bacon's. He was very influenced by film as we know, and using the triptych format was a way of capturing time, but he wanted to avoid the obvious linear narrative, which is why he changed the order of events in the picture so you can’t read it from left to right. Dyer vomits in the right panel, and is dying, or dead, in a foetal position in the first panel.

When I was first writing about the work, Bacon was still alive, so we tended not to write about the fact that Dyer had committed suicide. People who have written subsequently have criticised me for making a literal interpretation of events, as they believed the artist was painting a metaphorical depiction of death. However, the reality is, I believe, that this painting is the most graphic narrative engagement he ever made. When I spoke to Bacon at the time, I might have expected him to be dispassionate about the event, and to talk about the painting in formal terms, but it was clear that he was deeply affected by it. The painting was, for him, a form of catharsis. He had said how extraordinarily unfortunate and sad the incident was, but not in terms of “oh, I wish I’d come back to the room a few hours earlier”. I felt that he thought there was a sort of inevitability about Dyer’s death.

Bacon painted two earlier triptychs that also deal with the subject, which to me are works that lead up to Triptych – May–June 1973. The first is Triptych – In Memory of George Dyer (1971), which is like an honest diaristic memory of him. In the centre panel you see Dyer turning a key in the door – a reference to T S Eliot’s “I’ve heard the key turn in the lock”. But, for me, it’s Bacon envisaging George returning to the hotel room. In the second, Triptych – August 1972, he has painted a grey section roughly in the centre of each of the three canvases. It resembles a wrestling ring, a platform or a theatre stage. The figures sit on the “stage”, projecting out to the viewer, their forms highlighted by the black background. However, in Triptych – May–June 1973 the figures have crossed the threshold and into the darkness, which I think was a very conscious decision on his part to represent Dyer’s passage into death. As for the two arrows that he painted in the bottom section of both the left and right panels, he said that these additions gave the figures a specificity and formality that he likened to police photographs. He wanted to make the paintings seem more clinically distanced. He also told me that the source of these arrows – aside from police photographs – were sports books, and in particular a golfing book by Jack Nicklaus. The illustrations of Jack playing out of various predicaments were embellished with blocky red arrows indicating the direction of the club and intended ball flight.

In a similar fashion, Bacon used the arrows in Triptych – May–June 1973 in an attempt to bring a form of professional objectivity to the painful process of both recording and coming to terms with the death of his partner. I think he managed to depict that loss with great honesty and empathy. It’s a singularly powerful, contemporary and cathartic depiction of the death of a loved one.


John Maybury on Love is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon (1998)

I used to live in a squat in Queen’s Gate, Kensington, and on my way to art school I would often see Francis Bacon pottering about, as his studio was nearby. When I was researching the making of my film Love is the Devil, I would revisit his work. Actually, it didn’t require that much revisiting because he had been my hero since my student days. If you like Bacon, you tend to obsess about him. He was, and is, a part of my language, and I continue to use his work as a reference.

His paintings dictated the palette of Love is the Devil, the key colours being those of bone, blood and flesh. We couldn’t include either the actual paintings or direct quotes from Bacon in the film, which turned out to be an advantage, as it forced me to use the mechanics of film-making in a Baconesque way. Distorting mirrors – well, mirrors in general – which are such a central part of his work, leant themselves beautifully as a device within the film. It was also exciting that Bacon had such a cinematic approach to his own paintings – from being influenced by Eadweard Muybridge’s photographs of humans and animals in motion to the triptych format which made me think of Cinemascope. I wanted to get across a sense of that fragmentation that would relate both to him and his work.

I made a very deliberate decision to focus on George Dyer, Bacon’s lover, partly because the Dyer paintings were always my favourites and partly because his suicide played into the theme of Bacon as this dark painter. However, despite the darkness, I have always found an incredible beauty and affection in his work – words, I suspect, that he would have hated. Even in something as visceral as the figure of Dyer vomiting in the sink, Bacon manages to put across a poetry that is amazingly moving. In the film I gave one of the characters a line about the sensitivity of the brushstrokes in the Dyer paintings being like the caress of a lover. I do believe there is tenderness towards his friends and lovers in his paintings.

One of the things that came out of all the interviews and conversations that I did at the time was that very few people could tell me anything about Dyer. Few people liked him. They resented him and his closeness to Bacon. I think the same thing translated into John Edwards’s relationship too. So I deliberately portrayed Dyer as a character who was completely outside the whole Colony Room scene. He was an outsider in Bacon’s world on every level, but there was an intimacy between the two of them which nobody could penetrate. I think that’s what Bacon loved about him, and loved about John Edwards. They weren’t intellectuals or people who had much interest in his work.

When I made the film I can’t really say I got to know Bacon (I had met him at the Colony Room in 1980 when I was a young little punk, and found him terrifying). There were still enough of his friends alive to talk about him to give a degree of insight, but he was almost sphinx-like in his ability to mislead and misinform, and he hated people talking about his work. So the mythology around him is thick and dense. There was a kind of dark, sarcastic witticism at large with all those people, and Bacon in particular.

I think he was very much of his time, in that up until 1967 he was carrying out illegal practices and actually making very public statements about it in his painting. For example, the beautiful picture of two men on a mat­tress, Two Figures (1953), is clearly a homosexual image. But beyond that, he’s certainly not a gay artist. That point was very much top of my agenda in Love is the Devil. I got a lot of criticism from the gay community about this – but I was insistent that this isn’t and wasn’t a gay film, because there was no such thing as “gay” in that sense, and “homo­sexual” was something else, even, at that time.





            Study after Velazquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X 1953 

                           Francis Bacon   Oil on canvas  153x118 cm



Mark-Anthony Turnage

I knew about Bacon’s work from a young age. I voraciously read everything about him, in particular the interviews that he did with David Sylvester. I’ve never marked up a book in the margins as much as that one. I agreed with the ideas about process that Sylvester and Bacon discussed, and it correlated with what I was thinking about in my music at that time.

In 1985 I went to see the Bacon retrospective at Tate and was so knocked out by it that I went back several times. I became obsessed with his paintings. I’m not sure why; it was a strange combination of feelings. Despite the gruesome imagery, I thought his work was beautiful and visceral, and that really stimulated me. As well as the classic triptych Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (c.1944), I liked the series of paintings of the screaming popes based on Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X. In the exhibition they showed three in a row, so they also looked like a triptych. The open screaming mouth in some of them implies something vocal – but, of course, we don’t hear anything. I found that very powerful. I knew that Bacon was obsessed by mouths – he sourced images of diseases of the mouth from medical books, but he had also been influenced by the image of the screaming nurse in Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925).

I stored up the title of “screaming popes” in my head, but it would be three years before my thoughts and ideas would turn it into music. I had originally contemplated doing a requiem, and then I thought about writing a piece which distorted a set of Spanish dances, in the same way that Bacon had distorted Velázquez, but in the process of writing it, the dances – a bit like the first layers of paint being put on canvas – became so submerged in the other textures of the music that only a faint trace is visible. I ended up doing something more spontaneous. What I hope that comes across is the coloured intensity and emotional immediacy of his paintings.



                Blood on Pavement 1988  Francis Bacon
                          Oil on canvas  198 x 147.5 cm



I met Bacon twice in 1987, both times with my teacher Hans Werner Henze, who had commissioned me to do an opera for the Munich Biennale festival – Greek, based on Steven Berkoff’s East End reworking of the Oedipus myth. I was meant to ask Bacon to design the set for Greek, but I just knew he wouldn’t say yes. Instead, we got drunk. I was terrified, and completely in awe of him. Several years after that, another one of his works – a late painting from 1988 called Blood on the Pavement – was the influence for a movement in my piece Blood on the Floor. His works have stayed with me.





                                          Portrait of Isable Rawsthorne Standing in a Street in Soho 1967
                                                              Francis Bacon  Oil on canvas  198 x 147.5cm


Chantal Joffe

The first Bacon picture I saw was Study of a Dog (1952) at what is now Tate Britain as a seventeen-year-old teenager. I tried to paint a version of it, thinking it would be easy, but of course it wasn’t. The composition reminded me of the view out of the bay window in our house. I liked it because he was painting everyday things. Several years later, when I went to art school, I wanted to be Bacon, to be closer to him in some way. He always painted on the unprimed backs of canvases, so as a student I would paint on canvas that had only been sized with rabbit skin glue. It made the paint seem fresher, and I liked the touch of it on the canvas, as you got seepage into the surface that you don’t get with acrylic paints, for example. I also liked the directness of his method. I learned that in the middle of doing one painting, Figure in a Landscape (1945), he picked up dust and fluff from the floor and pressed it into the canvas.

I think Bacon used colour to great effect: black, purple, cobalt blue, egg-yolk yellow. In Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe (1963) the figure has been flattened out with pink and yellow colours. When you see one of these paintings from a distance, there is a seductiveness, a creamy beauty about the colours – especially those beautiful tangerines. But then when you see it close up, everything seems more destructive.

Bacon managed to balance his art well. As well as the seemingly spontaneous approach to his painting, he depicted scenes that gave a sense of control – figures in cages and enclosed spaces. I think he reinvented space for an artist. He was able to conjure a specific place or time without using a kind of realistic linear language, placing the viewer above, so it’s almost like looking down into a floodlit operating theatre. Often the spaces appear circular, rather than ones that you might read from left to right. A good example is Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne Standing in a Street in Soho (1967). Even though it’s based on a real place, he has re-imagined it. When you look at other artists at that time, their sense of space was much more turgid. In one sense, Bacon is a figurative painter without being a realist, but his spaces feel incredibly real. He never strays into the territory of whimsy or mannerism.


Rudolf Stingel

I don’t remember when I first saw Bacon’s work, and honestly, I never really thought that much about it. Obviously, I knew about it, had seen it and respected it. It was only recently, as I started doing my own self-portraits, that I began to run into Bacon, or he began to run into me. It was as if I had found myself in a place similar to where he was. His work became something that I had to deal with somehow; to navigate around or take on. So I decided to take him head-on; to do Bacon as I would do Bacon, to remake him as I would make him, only to amplify and isolate further the same thing in my own language, in the same way musicians do a cover song, to play it air guitar. I don’t really know how to explain the decision I made in remaking his work; I bought all the Bacon books I could find, and found the image that resonated the most. And then I distorted it until it was my own image, until it was no longer in my way. The cliché is to kill the Buddha when you meet him on the road, so I suppose this is just the corpse of that Buddha.



   Untitled  2007  Rudolf Stingel  Acrylic on canvas  336x827cm


Nigel Cooke on Study for a Portrait of Van Gogh VI (1957) and Van Gogh in a Landscape (1957)


These two paintings are from a larger group of “assaults” on Van Gogh produced in 1957. Bacon works the Dutch­man over thoroughly in the riveting series, throwing up a vividness of colour and handling rarely seen elsewhere in his output. There is a magnetic ambivalence to these works that sees Bacon squeezing out his own twisted homage from the contrary need to bury Vincent’s ghost in paint. The man himself is scarcely a shadow, a comical little black spider in a web of expression, which is the trace of Bacon’s drive to compress the space and make it his own. Although we get to see him up close, he is featureless; carbonised under the glare of the sun (Vincent’s own personal obsession), this charred multi-legged thing with his textbook straw hat and wretched easel has been supplanted by the language he himself set in motion 70 years earlier, on his daily pilgrimage to paint out in the fields and streets surrounding his little yellow house.

Pillaging for his own ends, Bacon’s “portrait” despatches Van Gogh to an elsewhere of painterly rivalry, mad brushwork and screaming colour. Picasso went after Velázquez’s Las Meninas (1656) in his way too, squaring up to Velázquez at ground level like a boxer; Bacon is more pitiless, an assassin – we see the painter from an aerial distance as though through a telescopic sight. Bacon’s vulnerable quarry is loaded up with painting gear and dwarfed by a vigorously painted grassy arena. The speed of the painting is all here – in the grass.

Bacon’s journey through painting is a story of manual thought, a narrative at the intersection of action and image. The grassland that threatens to engulf Van Gogh is the paint speaking on its own terms, scrubbing up an amalgamation of both natural space and human energy. This is the forerunner to Bacon’s “clear and precise” abstraction, as David Sylvester called it, the formally defined zone of action that exerted such strange pressures on his bodies in later years. Yet the trapezes and arenas are present in the Van Gogh series in a surprising way. Bacon has imported his London-made, circus-like arena into Van Gogh’s Arles.

A reproduction of the painting Vincent made of himself on the road with painting kit and straw hat in 1888 is the starting point for Bacon’s picture, yet the highway has been warped into a bowl-like mini-stadium. The road to Tarascon, a linear dirt track that took Van Gogh to many of his favourite painting sites from the house he shared for nine weeks with Gauguin, has been bent into an inescapable ring, the flatness of which recalls the interest in oriental art shared by both Van Gogh and Bacon. We get the sense of a Beckett-like habitual routine being ground out, a clockwork daily round on a provincial scale. Bacon has created a feedback loop of this dirt road that amplifies the agony Vincent faced when tackling the impossible project of recording his sensations on canvas. In this florid and critical painting series, the daily slog of Vincent’s painting routine is parodied in an infinite return to the site of disappointment. In this way, Bacon’s Van Gogh paintings represent one of twentieth-century art history’s most passionate, if slightly sadistic, back-handed compliments.



                            Jet of Water 1988  Francis Bacon

                                 Oil on canvas 198x147.5cm



Barnaby Furnas

I went to an arts high school. My painting teacher would bring books of his favourite artists for us to look at for inspiration. Bacon was an instant hit – he is probably the first contemporary artist I felt I could understand. His combination of visceral subject matter and magic painting style – a style so slick as to make accidents appear perfect. For a teenager who has pulled the wings off flies and poked at road kill, Bacon’s horrifying beauty fitted perfectly into my primal scream phase – his screaming popes echoed my screaming hormones. The paintings should be corny – maximum subject matter delivered with maxi­mum skill. The wonder of them, I think, lies in their perfection – they look found, they are so perfect. There is a seeming absence of intentionality in their making, which is why I think they are so hard to copy and why the images startle, as if glimpsed out of the corner of the eye.

In graduate school, while casting about for a way to begin painting again, I came across Jet of Water (1988). The jet of water is not painted in a conventional sense, rather it’s splattered à la Jackson Pollock – it must have been done flat (no?) – which is analogous to the way real water would behave. This suggested to me the possibility of a kind of material realism, found in the employment of paint itself. Making paint a voodoo substance in its own right, devoid of the need to capture an image, which, as Bacon has said, was photography’s job anyway. This is why I think his paintings resonate so terribly, and, of course, we are fascinated by what scares us. This is why pictures of something so horrible can become so ravishing and is a big part of how a spectacle (capital S) works. A spectacle offers a safe glimpse of death, a safe perch. It’s also what a photograph does. Bacon talks a lot about loving photography, but it seems telling to me that he would treat them so harshly in his studio. It is as if he had to kill them to get his paintings to exist.


Peter Doig

I first saw Bacon’s work in reproduction – I was painting and decorating a home in late 1970s Cabbagetown, Toronto, and I leafed through a coffee-table book. I was surprised, shocked and excited by what I saw. There was an immediacy and aggression to the work that was appealing to my adolescent self; paintings that included sinks and toilets, hypodermic syringes, swastikas, blood and flesh. There seemed a cockiness and swagger in his relation to his subjects, and his photographic source material was alarming and daring and sometimes disturbing. Seeing this as a young artist (seventeen years old), he appeared to be looking in very unlikely places for painting material.

The immediacy of his work is partly because he has such a strong sense of design. Not just in the way he frames and glazes his works, but especially in the settings he creates within his paintings – these rooms and spaces where the activity takes place. Bertolucci picked up on this and used this room idea in Last Tango in Paris. The back­ground setting is often very precise and designed, whereas the figures are where all the action and painting takes place. I don’t think Bacon could really draw, but he could really paint, and although there is control, he also seems able to do this by any means necessary when it comes to his figures. Having said this, I think he also has the ability to find the appropriate way to describe whatever he needs to in paint; be it grass or an umbrella, he makes it work without killing it. His painting technique seems wholly evolved out of his own acts of trying; even when he famously makes reference to other artists’ works, his language remains his own – one that he has invented.

Up until the Van Gogh paintings, Bacon seemed to be a tonal painter. In this series he starts really to work with colour. These are some of my favourite works of twentieth-century painting. After this, his colour palette appears to become more distinctive and considered. He is certainly the best ever painter to use orange – although when I first saw the cricket paintings, I found them repulsive. The stumpiness of them. In the end, I think the colour is electrifying, and he uses it in a way to draw you into the picture so that you almost no longer are aware of it being a colour.

‘Francis Bacon’, sponsored by Bank of America and curated by Matthew Gale, head of displays, Tate Modern, and Chris Stephens, head of displays, Tate Britain, Tate Britain, 11 September – 4 January. Tours to Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 3 February – 19 April, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 18 May – 16 August. Francis Bacon, with essays by the curators, Martin Harrison, David Alan Mellor, Simon Ofield, Gary Tinterow and Victoria Walsh, is published by Tate Publishing.

Linda Nochlin is a professor at the New York University Institute of Fine Arts. She specialises in the art of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and also writes contemporary criticism.

Hugh Marlais Davies is the David C Copley director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, and serves on the Francis Bacon authentication committee. His Francis Bacon: The Papal Portraits of 1953 was published in 2001.

John Maybury is a film-maker. He is currently working on a feature film version of Emily Brontë’s WutheringHeights.

Mark-Anthony Turnage is a composer.

Chantal Joffe is a painter who lives and works in London.

Rudolf Stingel is an artist based in New York and Bolzano, Italy.

Nigel Cooke is an artist who lives and works in London and Kent.

Barnaby Furnas is an artist based in New York.

Peter Doig is an artist who lives and works in Trinidad.





Master of forbidden, malevolent territory



No smiles in sight at this exhibition of the works of Francis Bacon, the greatest painter of the 20th century, writes Gerald Isaaman



Camden New Journal, 2nd October, 2008 

WE live in tough, corrupt, coruscating times.

So perhaps the last place you might want to be is Tate Britain where, appropriately, the bottom galleries are devoted to Francis Bacon. And those touring the rooms look as grim as his distorted, tortured subjects hanging – and that too is appropriate – on the walls.

There’s no smile in sight, just silent sadness, even sickness as Bacon’s big, soulless portraits devour you like animal fodder, leaving you devastated, both by their brutal impact and their ability to expose his victims’ vulnerability.

Indeed, the Irish painter, who died in Madrid in 1992, aged 82, and whose works now command millions, once declared: “When I’m dead, put me in a plastic bag and throw me in the gutter.” And he told a journalist: “I would paint your vulnerability.”

This exhibition reviews his gutter life chronologically – much in his beloved Soho, with some 70 major paintings – and shows how photographic images, of the body and of conflict in particular, played an essential role in how he looked on life.

His portraits are undoubtedly not as instantaneous as he often suggested, but deeply structured and thought out examples of how he virtually trapped his subject in cage-like frames where they could be torn apart.

Simple lines like prison bars and steel shutters pervade so much of his work, making his subjects powerless in some forbidden, malevolent territory, their passion and beliefs engulfed by Bacon’s own insistence that, without God, humans are subject to the same urges of violence, lust and screaming fear as any other animal.

Worse still, his work is unrelenting – he was, after all, an atheist – as he tackles now well-known subjects like Pope Innocent X, the Crucifixion and paintings inspired by Velazquez and Van Gogh. Even his memorial portraits of his dead lover George Dyer, often his model, fail to show a glimmer of either affection or hope.

Insecurity rules the day. No doubt it did in Bacon’s own life. His wit could be devastating; his insistence on drinking only the best champagne and vintage wine the result of his belief that the finest never created a hangover; and his desire for sex dominating his utterly scornful, devil-may-care attitude to everything around him.

While his studio was in West Kensington, Soho was his haunt and playground, the Colony Room and French House the background for his mischief, which so mesmerised his circle. “When I first knew Soho,” he said, “the prostitutes were all over the streets. The streets were more fun, more amusing. The prostitutes gave a living sense to the streets.”

And he was fatalistic to the end, making his final trip to Madrid in search of “the Spanish boy” despite medical advice not to do so. “We are born and we die and there’s nothing else,” he insisted when interviewed by Melvyn Bragg. “We’re just part of animal life.”

Not true, of course, in the sense that we can control our animal urges and use our talents to reflect life in art, in all its magical beauty, as well as the terrible turbulence Bacon depicts.

That is true difference, Bacon undoubtedly shattering civilised life and reducing us to dread and, maybe, truthful tears.

Certainly Bacon can be considered vulgar, cynical, theatrical too. He had, as well, a touch of the flamboyant showman who wishes to tease and tantalise. So did Turner, who would turn up at the Royal Academy on varnishing day to add an unexpected dash of red paint to a landscape, which his mean critics crushed as rubbish but which endured and ended up an admired masterpiece.

Bacon is considered today’s Turner, our greatest painter of the 20th century, drastically confined in content though he was compared to Turner. Do go and judge for yourself before meltdown overtakes us.

• Francis Bacon, Tate Britain, SW1, until January 4.





Liver: A Fictional Organ With A Surface Anatomy Of Four Lobes, 

By Will Self



You'll need a strong stomach for Self's stories

Reviewed by Christopher Fowler


Independent on Sunday, 5 October 2008  


As the literary equivalent of Francis Bacon, Will Self continually challenges readers with biological overload. In Liver he has found an appropriate method of anatomy, via four pieces connected by the body's largest internal organ. Stepping into Self's world is like opening one of the Wellcome Institute's cabinets of medical curiosities. We start with the portraiture of pickled specimens in "Foie Humain": the inhabitants of a Soho dive called the Plantation Club. The real-life Colony Room on Dean Street is hitting 60 and heading for closure, a watered-down version of its past persona now mainly famous for outliving its competitors, and self-conscious enough to host a trendy website, so it's appropriate that Self should restore some of its lustre with this stagger up its filthy Soho stairs. The characters who populate his drinking den are so closely drawn over their originals that I imagine the only reason they won't sue is that they're either dead or unwell. The Bacon comparison is openly invited; drinkers are described as having "their fleshy convolutions trapped in the gelatinous atmosphere like whelks in aspic".

The story captures this necrotic miniature universe exactly, autopsying the alkies as they submit to the gavage which leads to engorged livers, gin-blossomed features and a blurry reduction of thought that no longer differentiates between male and female, sin and redemption, or even life and death. It covers the demise of the club's Frankenstein-like owner Ian Board, after which the place could never be the same again – but it had collapsed long before, with the loss of the original patrons, so that we watch the decline of something already dead. As Board's nose pales in death and the reluctant mourners are forced into natural light by the funeral, we gaze upon the denizens "who, even in the brilliance of a summer's day, have the dazed-grey look of ghetto-dwellers about to be relieved of their remaining teeth by Nazis with pliers". To coat these ghastly apparitions with a patina of nostalgia that actually makes their company desirable is a feat which deserves some kind of recognition, although the ending is harder to swallow than Ian's gin. A typescript of the story should perhaps be wedged on the shelf behind the Colony Room's bar, to yellow beside the shoddy accretions of the decades.

The remaining material is tangentially linked. There's a trip to Switzerland for a terminal liver-cancer patient seeking absolution, and a media-life-is-hell tale that doesn't ring true, featuring a copywriter in a Promethean trap. The last story, "Birdy Num Num", roars back to full strength as a gathering of users and abusers in a crepuscular London basement is conflated and contrasted with the antiseptic world inside an old Peter Sellers film, The Party.

What counts most throughout is Self's enthralling, muscular and sometimes even joyous use of language. His writing propels one of the greatest arguments for freedom of speech that I can think of; you may not like his subject matter but his obsidian brilliance is incontrovertible, shocking and humane.







Scraps of Bacon

Radio 4, 11.30am 


Chris Campling, Radio Choice, The Times, October 2, 2008


He wasn’t the first and he won’t be the last, but Francis Bacon was one of the greatest artists to give away his work to settle outstanding debts, mostly of an alcoholic nature, while his income was “resting“. Among those interviewed by the novelist and documentary-maker James Maw are the owners of the defunct Wheeler’s Oyster Bar, where Bacon amassed such huge debts that he painted rare special commissions in lieu of payment.A r

A remarkable number of other Soho denizens must be kicking themselves that they didn’t hang on to his offerings when greatness stared them in the face and asked to be put on the tab.





Scraps of Bacon



Producer/Laurence Grissell


BBC Radio 4, 02 Oct 2008 11:30 


Scraps Of Bacon investigates the rumours suggesting that artist Francis Bacon gave away works of art to settle outstanding debts.

Novelist James Maw turns investigator to uncover the truth about Bacon – a "bon viveur", gambler and inveterate drinker who ran up enormous bills in the drinking dens of Soho. Maw, who met Bacon in Soho in 1983, tries to track down some of Bacon's works of art and unravel the stories behind them.

Among those he hears from are the owners of the now defunct Wheeler's Oyster Bar, where Bacon amassed such huge debts that he painted rare special commissions in lieu of payment. Bacon's electrician was another lucky beneficiary of the artist's largesse. 

Padding the streets of Soho, Maw searches for the waiters, drinkers and tradesmen to whom the great painter was drawn. The programme also uncovers sides of Bacon which, until now, have rarely been glimpsed.







    Post War & Contemporary Evening


     Sale 7617, King Street, London  19 October 2008





                                                                      Portrait of Henrietta Moraes  1969



Lot Description

Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
Portrait of Henrietta Moraes
titled and dated 'Henrietta Moraes 1969'; inscribed by Henrietta Moraes 'For the first time A vision of me by my friend Francis Bacon with Gareth at Luggula I love y 2 good heavens Henrietta Moraes' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
14 x 12in. (35.5 x 30.5cm.)
Painted in 1969



£5,500,000 - £7,500,000 ($9,547,998 - $13,019,997) Unsold  


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Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., London.
Acquired from the above by The Hon. Garech Browne in 1970.



M. Leiris, Francis Bacon: Full Face and in Profile, New York 1983, no. 63 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).
M. Kundera & F. Borel, Portraits and Self-Portraits (illustrated in colour, p. 108).



Dublin, Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Francis Bacon in Dublin, June-August 2000, no. 36 (illustrated in colour, p. 96).
Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Francis Bacon: Portraits and Heads, June-September 2005, no. 42 (illustrated in colour, p. 75). This exhibition later travelled to Hamburg, Kunsthalle, October 2005-January 2006.


Lot Notes

Painted in 1969, the intimate Portrait of Henrietta Moraes is an insight into Francis Bacon's world and the larger-than-life characters who surrounded him, as well as being a searing vision of life, of human existence as seen from his unique perspective. In his small portraits of the 1960s, Bacon deliberately used the constraint of the fourteen by twelve inch canvas to concentrate his painterly powers in a deliberately focussed arena. There is no room for extraneous detail; jutting into the monochrome field of the background is a contrasting swirl of paints, an organic maelstrom of movement and colour applied with brushes, smeared and manipulated, resulting in a frenzy of activity for the eyes thrown into relief by the uniformity of the background.

Henrietta Moraes was one of the characters who made the Soho of the 1950s and 1960s so legendary. She was a great friend and drinking partner of artists, writers, musicians, poets and wasters alike, frequenting the French House, the Coach and Horses, the Colony Room, Wheelers and the Gargoyle where Bacon so frequently held court. On her arrival in London in the early 1950s, even before he had gained critical recognition, Moraes had sought out Bacon's friendship. In Henrietta, her autobiography, when discussing her friends at the time, she recalled:

"Two other people that I was determined to make friends with because I felt so drawn to them were Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon. They were both young, not particularly well-known painters, but Lucian's hypnotic eyes and Francis' ebullience and charming habit of buying bottles of champagne proved irresistible" (H. Moraes, Henrietta, Harmondsworth 1995, p. 30).

She embarked upon a short relationship with Freud and a long friendship with Bacon. Garech Browne, in whose keeping Portrait of Henrietta Moraes has been and to whom the picture was inscribed personally by the artist and model alike, is a member of the Guinness dynasty and was also a friend of both Bacon and Moraes, having begun to involve himself in this rowdy Bohemian scene at a tender age. Browne, who later set up Claddagh Records and oversaw the founding of the Irish band The Chieftans, was himself the subject of portraits by Freud, whom he had at first come to know through the painter's wife, Lady Caroline Blackwood, another member of the Guinness family.

Until the 1960s, Bacon's pictures had often focussed on Popes, Cardinals, Furies, Van Gogh, figures from magazines and newspaper cuttings and so forth, interspersed with portraits. However, it was in the 1960s that he began to focus on creating portraits of the people around him. "One afternoon I was having a drink in the French Pub with Francis Bacon and Deakin and others," Moraes recalled. "Francis said, 'I'm thinking of painting some of my friends and I'd like to do you but I can really only work from photographs, so, if it's OK, Deakin will come round to your house and take them. I'll tell him what I want. You are beautiful, darling, and you always will be, you mustn't worry about that" (Moraes, ibid., p. 70). Bacon commissioned his friend John Deakin to photograph various characters in his circle and used the photographs as source and reference material; Henrietta was the first person to be photographed in this way.

Deakin had already created a portrait photograph of her years earlier, which had been blown up to monumental scale and was used to decorate David Archer's poetry bookshop in Greek Street, where she worked; on this occasion, though, Deakin had been asked to take photographs of her naked. Accordingly, he arrived at her house at 9 Apollo Place, in Chelsea - a house that she had inherited from her great friend, the artist John Minton, and in which Bacon himself had briefly lived - and took a range of graphic photographs of her, despite her concern that they did not seem like the sort of image that either Bacon or Deakin would find interesting. Sure enough, on bumping into Bacon soon afterwards, he complained that Deakin had taken pictures essentially the wrong way up... He was accordingly dispatched to re-take the photographs, and the resulting images became crucial sources for Bacon over the coming years for his portraits of Moraes. Meanwhile, she stumbled across Deakin selling the original photographs to sailors in a pub, for which, after demanding that he buy her some drinks, she forgave him.

It is unsurprising that Bacon sought to capture Henrietta Moraes in his paintings. She was a volatile and entertaining character, much like him. Striking in terms of looks, she had already been painted by Freud during the 1950s and would become a recurrent model for Maggi Hambling towards the end of her life. She was likewise an inspiration to the then young Indian poet, Dom Moraes, whom she married. Her eventful life involved a vast range of friends; she spent time as a hippy, a cat burglar (and then, perhaps inevitably, a prison inmate), a drunk, a drug addict and a dog-lover. Sometimes foul-mouthed, sometimes charming, never dull, she was the perfect model for Bacon's inspections of the anguished scream that he considered to lie at the heart of humanity and existence.

From the 1960s onwards, many of these paintings shared the same format and resulted in some of his most successful works, as evidenced by John Russell's comment that, "The single head, fourteen inches by twelve, was from 1961 onwards the scene of some of Bacon's most ferocious investigations" (J. Russell, Francis Bacon, London 1985, p. 99). Henrietta Moraes first featured in one of his paintings, taken from Deakin's photographs, in 1963, and featured in a range of works over the following years, both in large, sprawling nudes and on the intimate scale of Portrait of Henrietta Moraes. Discussing the simplicity of composition of some of his pictures a few years after this work was painted, Bacon discussed his search for an greater visual potency:

"Well, I've increasingly wanted to make the images simpler and more complicated. And for this to work, it can work more starkly if the background is very united and clear. I think that probably is why I have used a very clear background against which the image can articulate itself... I would like the intimacy of the image against a very stark background. I want to isolate the image and take it away from the interior and the home" (Bacon, 1974, quoted in D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, New York 1990, p. 120).

Adhering to this notion, Henrietta Moraes' features appear to spread into the space of the canvas in this picture. There is a vivid and striking contrast between the monochrome background and the accretion of flesh-tones and other colours that make up this profile portrait. Through this contrast, the deliberate flatness of the background lends the face a three-dimensional quality, a sort of ectoplasmic, pulpy appearance that at once recalls the subject's features and is at the same time a clear distortion, involving as it does the spread, smudged and smeared oils. This balance between appearance and reality lies at the heart of Bacon's work, as he explained to David Sylvester: "I can quite easily sit down and make what is called a literal portrait of you. So what I'm disrupting all the time is this literalness, because I find it uninteresting" (Bacon, 1974, quoted in ibid., p. 121). Discussing this process of distortion a few years before Portrait of Henrietta Moraes was painted, Bacon explained both the effect that he sought and its effect, in turn, on his sitters:

"What I want is to distort the thing far beyond the appearance, but in the distortion to bring it back to a recording of the appearance... I think that the methods by which this is done are so artificial that the model before you, in my case, inhibits the artificiality by which this thing can be bought back... They [sitting models] inhibit me. They inhibit me because, if I like them, I don't want to practise before them the injury that I do to them in my work. I would rather practise the injury in private by which I think I can record the fact of them more clearly... people believe - simple people at least - that the distortions of them are an injury to them - no matter how much they feel for or how much they like you" (Bacon, 1966, quoted in ibid., pp. 38-41).

It was for this reason that he used photographs as a source image. That way, he had the appearance of the person before him, and could compound this with his own memories of the person being depicted. He could add dimensions of emotion, of psychology, and could also let hazard play its part. For to Bacon, it was often the little accidents, the chance movements of paint, that would disrupt and distort his image and thereby lead him to a more profound understanding of the effect that he had in fact sought. Bacon described this process in a letter to his friend the writer Michel Leiris as, "An attempt to capture the appearance together with the cluster of sensations that the appearance arouses in me" (Bacon, quoted in M. Leiris, Francis Bacon: Full Face and in Profile, Oxford 1983, p. 32). He would later expand upon this idea in conversation with Sylvester, explaining that,

"There is the appearance and there is the energy within the appearance. And that is an extremely difficult thing to trap. Of course, a person's appearance is closely linked with their energy. So that, when you are in the street and in the distance you see somebody you know, you can tell who they are just by the way they walk and by the way they move. But I don't know whether it would be possible to do a portrait of somebody just by making a gesture of them. So far it seems that if you are doing a portrait you have to record the face. But with their face you have to try and trap the energy that emanates from them" (Bacon, 1982-84, quoted in Sylvester, op. cit., 1990, p. 175).

In Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, Bacon has done this: he has trapped the energy, which appears to create a pulpy aura emanating from his model's head, resulting in a vivid image that recalls the old photographs of séances that had so fascinated the artist while remaining utterly recognisable as a portrait. What Bacon sought to capture in his paintings was to convey, through an almost electrical jolt to the viewer's system, an idea of the person, of their spirit, their essence, their being, as well as of the vulnerability of their flesh. He felt that art should be visceral, should pass "from the eye to the stomach without going through the brain" (Bacon, quoted in F. Giacobetti, Exclusive Interview with Francis Bacon: I painted to be loved, in The Art Newspaper, June 2003). So, in manipulating the paint in Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, he has tapped into his own existential angst, his own concerns with death and the fragility of life, creating an image that is at once a profoundly personal portrait of one of his friends and a searing, universal exploration of the human condition, of the constant battle that is life itself.




                                               Portrait of Henrietta Moraes  1969  Francis Bacon







Post War & Contemporary Evening


Sale 7617, King Street, London  19 October 2008




                       Francis Bacon  1956  Lucian Freud



Lot Description

Lucian Freud (b. 1922)
Francis Bacon
oil and charcoal on canvas
14 x 14in. (35.5 x 35.5cm.)
Painted in 1956-57  



£5,000,000 - £7,000,000 ($8,679,998 - $12,151,997)



£5,417,250 ($9,404,346)


Special Notice  

No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 17.5% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.
Artist's Resale Right ("droit de Suite"). If the Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer also agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.


Pre-Lot Text




Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1972.



W. Feaver, Lucian Freud, New York 2007, no. 92 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).



Wolsfburg, Kunstmuseum, Blast to Freeze, British Art in the 20th Century, September 2002-January 2003 (incorrectly dated 'c. 1970'). This exhibition later travelled to Toulouse, Les Abattoirs, February-May 2003.
Venice, Museo Correr, Lucian Freud, June-October 2005, no. 6 (illustrated in colour, p. 52).


Lot Notes

Painted in 1956-57, Francis Bacon is an incredibly rare portrait of the celebrated artist by his friend and fellow painter, Lucian Freud. This picture dates from the height of their friendship with each other, and is a tribute to the importance that these two giants of twentieth-century British painting had upon each other. While Freud appear in many of Bacon's oils, the present portrait is the only surviving oil portrait that Freud painted of Bacon. The raw canvas of Francis Bacon throws an extra emphasis on the brushwork with which the face has been rendered, making this picture a rare insight both into Freud's working practices and into one of his most important friendships.

Freud had first met Bacon in 1945. He had heard about this mysterious and distinctive artist from Graham Sutherland. Within a short time, Sutherland had arranged for both artists to join him for a weekend at his home in the country, and they met at the station on the way there. "Once I met him I saw him a lot," Freud recalled (Freud, quoted in W. Feaver, "Lucian Freud: Life into Art" pp. 12-50, in W. Feaver (ed.), Lucian Freud, exh. cat., London, 2002, p. 26). They soon enjoyed an intense and productive friendship, seeing each other on a daily basis, be it in studios or in the various haunts of Soho that they frequented. It was only natural that these two painters, in each other's company so much, would begin to feature in each other's pictures, Freud appearing in Bacon's oils for the first time in 1951 and Bacon appearing in three drawings by Freud executed in 1951, two paintings of 1952 and 1956-57 and a later drawing from 1970.

Freud actually sat for Bacon in the studio for his first portrait by his friend, executed in 1951. This was a rare occurrence as Bacon usually preferred to work from secondary media such as photographs. On his return to the studio after this first sitting, Freud recognised that, in his absence, the work had completely changed-somehow it had evolved, and now closely resembled a snapshot of Kafka that was amongst the various bits of media flotsam and ephemera that littered Bacon's studio. Bacon sat for Freud in 1952, resulting in the famous oil portrait of Bacon that was in the collection of the Tate until it was stolen in 1988 from an exhibition in Berlin and whose whereabouts remain unknown. It is a telling indication of the differences in working techniques between the two artists that Freud took three months to paint that portrait-- the notoriously restless Bacon apparently, and even surprisingly, "grumbled but sat consistently" (Freud, quoted in ibid., p. 26). They sat knee to knee, Bacon looking downwards, his head filling the small copper plate. Intriguingly, this downward gaze is prefigured in Freud's 1951 drawing, implying that this contemplative pose was a continuous feature in the artist. The present portrait, Francis Bacon, which was left unfinished on account of its sitter suddenly leaving probably to pursue his lover Peter Lacy in Tangier, is now, in addition to the four drawings, the only remaining portrait of Bacon. A number of other portraits of Bacon were, at one time or another, attempted but although started, apart from Francis Bacon, they dissatisfied the perfectionist Freud, who accordingly destroyed them. Freud himself, on the other hand, was often the subject of Bacon's works throughout the years, appearing in a number of guises in his oils.

During the 1950s, when this picture was painted, period Bacon and Freud saw each other on a daily basis, having dinner almost every night. It was the heyday of Bohemian life in Soho, a now-legendary era in the Post-War era when intellectuals, artists, playwrights, poets and plain old drinkers frequented some of the landmark establishments day after day, night after night. Caroline Blackwood described the carnivalesque atmosphere of this strange, inebriated and intoxicating world, into which she herself was plunged during her marriage to Freud: it was "a whole kind of Soho life. Going out to Wheeler's, and then the Colony and the Gargoyle, was the thing with that crowd - Francis Bacon, James Pope-Hennessey, John Minton, Cyril Connolly" (C. Blackwood quoted in M. Filler, "The Naked and the Id", in Vanity Fair, vol. 56, no. 11, 1993, p. 198). This small roll-call of prominent figures from the era is an indication of the cultural importance of some of the people inhabiting that decadent world; and of course, the list went on. At that time, Freud was living in Dean Street, but also kept a studio in Delamere Terrace in Paddington; it was there that Francis Bacon was painted. During this period, Bacon lived and had a studio in Battersea; however, the pair still managed to see each other all the time.

As well as a physical closeness, there was a closeness in the way in which Bacon and Freud were painting during this period. For they were both determinedly figurative artists, working at a moment when the Abstract Expressionism of their American contemporaries was so much in the ascendant and appeared to be dominating so much of the avant garde. In London, a different avant garde, which did not feel the pressing need to break free from the influences either of the figurative world or of the examples of their artistic predecessors, emerged. While many of the artists loosely grouped under the umbrella of the so-called 'School of London' would resent the label, it nonetheless highlights the fact that many prominent artists of the period were working in a figurative idiom. Alongside Freud and Bacon were artists such as Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach and John Minton, all of whom were part of the same circle; indeed, many of these artistic and personal alliances were immortalised in photographs from the time, not least the famous image of Bacon holding court in his favourite London restaurant, Wheeler's.




    Timothy Behrens, Lucien Freud, Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach, Michael Andrews at Wheeler's 1962


During this frenzied highpoint of their friendship, both Bacon and Freud shared a love of gambling. Freud would bet on the horses, while Bacon preferred casinos. In a sense, though, this love of hazard, of chance, was a crucial influence on Freud's painting. For until 1954, Freud had meticulously and painstakingly painted, often using incredibly fine sable-hair brushes in order to create his pictures. It had, up to this point, been his practise to paint while sitting down; however, in 1954, he began to paint standing behind his easel, a technique that he has continued to use to this day. This allowed him to work in a far more expansive way, adding a great gestural quality to his brushwork that was emphasised by his use of newly-adopted coarse, thicker hog's-hair brushes which amplified his touch and made the paint freer. He also ceased to rely on underdrawing, allowing him to work with a far greater spontaneity and directness. Bacon, and his love of chance, played an instrumental role in these changes in Freud's working practise. Bacon lived life on the brink, he courted risk, and he was producing works that were violent explosive and fuelled by hazard; and yet they worked. Freud would later recall that Bacon talked about, "packing a lot of things into one single brushstroke, which amused and excited me, and I realised that I was million miles from anything I could ever do." Freud, losing patience with his older methods, pushed himself accordingly, adding more emphasis to each brushstroke. This is clearly evident in the materiality and sense of movement that fill Francis Bacon, clearly showing the influence of the sitter on the technique of the portraitist who was painting him. Freud has disregarded lines in favour of planes and volumes, liberating the paint, creating a more worked complexion, more seasoned and full of life.





A Profoundly Personal Portrait by Francis Bacon Highlights Christie's October Auction



Art Daily, Sunday, September 28, 2008




           Drinking outside 58 Dean Street Records, directly opposite The French House, in Soho, London. 

     From left to right:  Stan Gebler Davies, Gloria MacGowran, Francis Bacon and the Hon. Garech Browne.


LONDON.  —  Christie’s will offer Francis Bacon’s Portrait of Henrietta Moraes at the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 19 October 2008 in London. An intimate painting which offers a fascinating insight into the characters who shaped the thriving bohemian scene of Soho in the 1960s, the work is expected to realise £5,500,000 to £7,500,000. The painting was acquired by the Hon. Garech Browne in 1970; he was a close, personal friend of Francis Bacon, as well as many of the other leading figures of the time including Lucian Freud, the poet Dom Moraes and the sitter, Henrietta Moraes. Garech Browne’s romantic home in the Wicklow mountains, Luggala, has been a creative centre of Irish culture for the last 50 years, and was described recently by U2’s Bono as ‘our epicentre’ and ‘our inspiration.’

Pilar Ordovas, Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art, Christie’s London: ‘This portrait of Henrietta Moraes is a wonderful painting which offers a fascinating insight into life and the characters of 1960s Soho. The painting was bought by Garech Browne in 1970, shortly after it was painted, and has remained in his care since. Garech Browne’s influence on British and Irish culture in the last 50 years, combined with both the artist and the sitter of this work being close friends of his, makes it a wonderfully appealing painting which is sure to attract the interest of international collectors and institutions.’

The Hon. Garech Browne: ‘I remember well my years in Soho even sometimes with my younger brother Tara, who inspired the Beatles song ‘A Day in the Life’. We often went to the Gaston Berlemont’s French pub officially called the York Minster and had lunch with Francis, my first cousin Caroline Blackwood (then Caroline Freud) and Lucian in Wheelers restaurant with my mother. We would then proceed to the Colony Club where the proprietress Muriel Belcher, one of the three known women Bacon ever painted, told me I was the only “member” ever allowed in under the age of 12. Later, Lucian would take me to the Gargoyle Club where Johnny Minton, Francis Bacon and Stephen Spender were often to be found. I would not be allowed in by the bouncers so Lucian would put me under his long overcoat and I walked on his feet to gain entry. It was only the doorman and not the proprietors who felt that I should not be allowed in to meet such “disreputable people” at such a young age. Many of the inmates were to be painted by both Francis and Lucian.’

Henrietta Moraes was an integral character in Soho in the 1950s and 1960s, and she played a major part in making the scene so legendary. She was a great friend and drinking partner of artists, writers, musicians and poets, and she befriended Francis Bacon in the early 1950s before he had found fame. In the 1960s, Bacon turned to painting portraits of the people around him. He would ask John Deakin to take photographs of his proposed subjects, and then paint from the photographs themselves, ensuring that the presence of the sitter could not merge their appearance with the character and emotions which the artist wished to portray in them. The present work was painted in 1969; it is a profoundly personal portrait of one of the artist’s greatest friends, and a searing, universal exploration of the human condition, and of the battle that is life itself.

The portrait was acquired by the Hon. Garech Browne in 1970 in London, and inscribed by the sitter on the reverse of the canvas. The inscription reads: 'For the first time A vision of me by my friend Francis Bacon with Gareth [sic] at Luggala 30-6-76&7 I love y 2 good heavens Henrietta Moraes'. It has been exhibited at the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art in Dublin in conjunction with the opening of the Bacon studio in its new permanent home; The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh; and the Kunsthalle in Hamburg. It will be on public view in London for the first time from 15 to 19 October at Christie’s South Kensington.

Garech Browne was born into the Guinness dynasty, his mother being Oonagh Guinness, the youngest of the three ‘Golden Guinness Girls’. In 1937, Ernest Guinness gave his daughter Oonagh the Luggala Estate as a wedding present and it fast became the gathering place for the Irish intelligentsia, as well as for artists and musicians from around the world. Garech Browne was first introduced to Lucian Freud at the age of 12 and he soon built friendships with many of the artists, musicians and poets of both London and Ireland, as Luggala continued to thrive as a creative centre for Irish culture. Garech Browne founded Claddagh Records and oversaw the founding of Irish group The Chieftains. He recorded traditional Irish music, as well as the works of Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes and Robert Graves. Lucian Freud has painted his portraits, John Boorman chose Luggala as the setting for the film Excalibur and the house has hosted a diverse range of artistic guests including Mick Jagger, John Hurt, Patrick Kavanagh and Lucian Freud. In an article in Vogue in 2005, U2’s Bono stated that Luggala had ‘become our epicentre’ and was ‘our inspiration’.

Christie’s will present a series of exhibitions and auctions dedicated to Post-War and Contemporary art and 20th century Italian art from 15 to 21 October 2008, during a week when the international art world will gather in London for a showcase of contemporary art exhibitions and events including The Frieze Art Fair. A leading highlight is one of only two oil portraits of Francis Bacon (1909-1992) ever painted by Lucian Freud (b. 1922). The last known remaining oil portrait (the other was stolen from an exhibition in Berlin in 1988), the rarely-seen painting offers a tangible and intimate glimpse into the inspirational friendship of two of the greatest British artists of the 20th century. It will be exhibited to the public for the first time in London from 15 to 19 October at Christie’s, 85 Old Brompton Road, and is expected to realize £5 million to £7 million.

The auctions will take place at the newly refurbished salerooms at Christie’s, 8 King Street, St James’s, and are scheduled as follows:

Sunday 19 October at 4pm: Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale
Monday 20 October at 7pm: The Italian Sale
Tuesday 21 October at 10am and 2pm: Post-War and Contemporary Art

The public exhibitions for the sales will take place as follows:

Post-War and Contemporary Art: 15 to 19 October 2008 at Christie’s, 85 Old Brompton Road

The Italian Sale:15 to 20 October 2008 at Christie’s, 8 King Street



Francis Bacon



Tate Britain





Reviewing an exhibition is an invitation to comment both on the exhibition as such and on the art presented. Since performing both tasks satisfactorily is impossible in the space available I shall concentrate on questions raised by Francis Bacon's work and say only this about the exhibition. Bacon is now widely proclaimed the greatest British artist of the 20th century and this show offers a selection of his best paintings from each phase of his career — it contains all the really "iconic" works such as the "screaming popes", the Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, the Dyer triptychs, the Self Portraits. For anyone interested in modern art this is definitely a show to see.

Regarding Bacon's overall standing I would say that he is not one of those artists, like Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, Piet Mondrian or Andy Warhol, who drove modern art forward to new forms of visual representation, and changed it so fundamentally that it became possible to conceive of an athlete sprinting through the Tate Britain as a work of art. He is, however, one of those like Chaim Soutine or Alberto Giacometti, who, while using relatively traditional methods, made images of exceptional emotional power.

The source and nature of this emotional power remain much debated. One can point to a number of influences — Michelangelo, Diego Velazquez, Francisco Goya, Picasso, Giacometti, the photographs by Eadweard Muybridge among others — and to certain repeated techniques and devices. For example, the way he uses cage structures to suggest his subjects are prisoners or creatures on display; the way, often, they are placed on plinths, or beds, with a sense of space around them, so that they appear served up like meat or specimens on a dish; or the way he used cubist forms, in his portraits, to knead the flesh round the bones of the skull. But if these are some of the means by which Bacon achieved his effects they leave the driving force of those effects unidentified.

In other words, why is Bacon's pope screaming? Alternatively, what or who is he screaming at? I pose this question not just as a means of interrogating Bacon's best known image but also as a way into discussing the general purport of his work.

We don't get a clear answer from Bacon himself. Like many artists he preferred to let his paintings speak for themselves, and his response to questions of this nature was to cite the visual sources of his imagery (Velazquez's Pope Innocent X, the nurse's scream in Battleship Potemkin) while saying nothing about its emotional sources.

Nevertheless, there is a range of plausible answers on offer. The pope is Bacon himself screaming at the fear and loneliness of being a gay man at a time when homosexuality was still a crime. The pope is the pope and Bacon screaming at the horrors of the world at the end of the war (Auschwitz, Hiroshima). The pope is the pope screaming at the wreckage of his faith in a godless world. The pope is Papa, Bacon's brutal father, who attempted to beat his homosexuality out of him. This obvious Freudian interpretation was put to Bacon directly by the art critic David Sylvester in one of their famous interviews — Bacon simply deflected it.

The pope's scream, like the figures at the base of a crucifixion, is Bacon's visceral response to the human condition as a whole — a world of violence and despair, hopelessness and terror, essentially meaningless, in which we are all simply "meat". There is probably truth in all these answers. Artists often choose images precisely because they carry multiple associations.

However there is no doubt that the final reading is the one favoured by the art establishment and by Tate Britain. This is because it enables them to assimilate Bacon to Michelangelo, Rembrandt and others, as a producer of "timeless" truths about life and because it dovetails with the notion of an unchanging human nature. The bourgeoisie has a place for art that shows the horribleness of life, so long as they can also claim it shows that nothing can be done about it.

For this reason many on the left, including John Berger, have long been suspicious of, even hostile to, Bacon. And it has to be said that much of Bacon's outlook was reactionary: he was a kind of Nietzschean, adhering to a sort of "exhilarated despair", and a positive supporter of social inequality as part of "the texture of life"

Nevertheless, I do not believe that the left should reject Bacon's work, as opposed to his views, and I'm pleased that Berger has recently revised his judgment. The horror he so powerfully expressed is in reality a product not of human nature but of alienation, in all its aspects, internal and external, and that can be changed. Moreover those artists such as Franz Kafka, Samuel Beckett and Bacon, who look into the abyss, who take on the horror and stare it down, do, through their work, make a form of resistance, a defiance, from which we can benefit and draw hope, whether they did or not.

The Francis Bacon exhibition is at the Tate Britain in London until 4 January 2009



  Francis Bacon: Tragic Genius








      Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion presented by Eric Hall, 1953



Francis Bacon did for despair what Michelangelo did for faith. He made it majestic. The Bacon retrospective that just opened at Tate Britain in London is one of the most powerful shows I've seen in more than 40 years of museum-going. This is Bacon's fifth retrospective, and by now his screaming Popes, wrestling lovers and tread-marked faces are so famous it's impossible to make them new. But the Tate show, which runs until Jan. 4, does something better. It brings almost five decades of Bacons together into a kind of collective cry, one that makes you realize how rare it is to see contemporary art that attempts, much less achieves, a genuine tragic dimension. Irony you can find in any gallery these days, also low comedy, puerile cool and enigma. But in a time that has its share of tragedy, where is the art that tries to strike an equivalent note? What we have no language for anymore, at least not in art, is acute pain. Except in room after room at the Tate, in a show that moves later to Madrid and New York City.

After the butchery of World War II, Bacon was one of the artists, along with Alberto Giacometti, Jean Dubuffet and a few others, who found a way to make the painted human figure plausible again by subjecting it to extreme pressure. The soft tissue of Bacon's boiling men and women is wrenched, smeared and vaporized by their own drives and desires, and by whatever it is they do to one another. Their heads are fissured, their torsos are invertebrate; their limbs, stretched and exploded, truly deserve to be called extremities — because with Bacon the body is always in extremis.


For Bacon none of this was a statement about his particular life and times, though his life played a part in it, and so did his times. What Bacon was after was something deeper. He wanted to make the body the visible sign of the eternal devils of human nature, the dog beneath the skin that bares its fangs in war and in bed.


To do that he took whatever he needed from art history. From Poussin came the mouth of a screaming mother in The Massacre of the Innocents and from Degas the arched back of a woman bathing herself in a tub. He also drew on sources from far outside art, things like an illustrated medical text about illnesses of the mouth. He worked from reproductions, and from photographs of all kinds pinned to walls and scattered on the floor of his studios in a muck of paper, rags, used brushes and broken furniture that he dived back into for ideas.


But Picasso was the first source. In the central panel of one of Bacon's great works from the 1970s, Triptych — In Memory of George Dyer, a shadowy man stands near the landing of a darkened stairwell, turning a tiny key in a lock. That key is surely borrowed from an odd creature doing the same in several of Picasso's seaside pictures from the late 1920s, when he was flirting with Surrealism. Those elastic Picassos, with their biomorphic figures that are part human, part dirigible, part swollen breast or phallus, turned a key in Bacon. They showed him the way to the nightmare distortions of anatomy that he arrived at by the end of World War II, a time when living flesh had been twisted every which way.


One of the first of those images he set loose in public was Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, a triptych he exhibited in 1945, when he was 35 years old. On three panels of bright reddish orange scuffed with grey, a trio of mutant figures grimace, snarl and bark. In two of them, the most expressive feature is the gaping mouth. What the eyes represent for most painters, the mouth was for Bacon, the locus of human identity. The mouth is what bites, suckles and howls at the moon. By contrast, the eyes in any face painted by him are likely to be missing entirely or smeared shut or obscured by a milky scrim. In Bacon's pictures, the windows of the soul — not that he believed in the soul — always have the curtains drawn.


By the mid-1940s Bacon had been making art for almost two decades, but he had exhibited very little before the Three Studies. Until the postwar years, he was largely unknown except perhaps to the older men who supported him, his multitude of male pick-ups on the side and whatever clients he attracted for a time as an interior designer in London. Decades later, stripped of any associations with fashion or taste, the ghostly outlines of his Bauhaus-flavored interiors and steel-tube furnishings found their way into the stark spaces and barred enclosures of his paintings. You detect them for the first time in the series of paintings he made from the great Velázquez portrait of Pope Innocent X, in which Bacon's flickering white perimeters form a cage for the Pontiff's impotent fury.


Why a Pope? With Bacon there's never one answer. His great gift was for conflation, visual and psychological, for compressing multiple possibilities into a single sliding form. From a 19th century photograph by Eadweard Muybridge he could take the squatting silhouette of a man and dissolve it within the outlines of a crouching boy attributed to Michelangelo. He could borrow the eyeglasses from a famous shot of a screaming nurse in Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin and perch them on a Pope's nose. In the same way, the meaning of his screaming Pontiff in Head VI fluctuates. Trapped in a kind of isolation booth, where a thunderstorm of granular black strokes rains down on him, this Pope suggests the baying, baboon madness of authority. (Indeed, one source for the painting was a photo of Joseph Goebbels in full harangue.) Yet at the same time, he's the face of the powerlessness sometimes even of absolute power.


And the same picture of the Holy Father could also bear traces of Bacon's anguished dealings with his own father, a truculent English army officer turned horse trainer who moved the family to Ireland, where Bacon was born in 1909. "Eddie" Bacon eventually rejected his girlish son and, if Bacon's not always reliable stories can be trusted, even had him whipped by stableboys to make a man of him.


But it's always a mistake to understand Bacon's work too quickly by way of his life. That's true even of the ferocious triptychs he made after the suicide of his lover George Dyer, a onetime London hood who killed himself in their hotel room on the eve of Bacon's 1971 Paris retrospective. With a picture like Triptych — August 1972 Bacon didn't simply unload his grief. He used it to find his way to an even starker abbreviation of a pitiless world. All through the '70s Bacon would flatten and simplify the spaces within which he put his liquid people. That made those places even colder and more clinical, and set off more sharply the wide passages of black he used as the threshold of mortality.


Not every Bacon is a triumph, however. As early as the mid-1950s, inspired by Van Gogh and by the keen sunlight of Tangiers, where he was spending much of his time in a miserable love affair, he attempted to work in brighter colors and with looser brushwork. The result was a few congested, conventionally expressionist canvases. But the movement to a high-key palette also opened the way to the orange, lilac and pale beige backgrounds that make his work of the '60s and '70s so unnerving, precisely because the agonized figures struggle in such bright spaces.


And by his last decade — he was 82 when he died in 1992 — Bacon was almost too fluent in his own idioms of despair. There are cluttered, over-determined pictures in the last galleries, where you watch him trying to find a way to make it new. But there are also great ones, like the 1991 Triptych. In all three panels, a large black square is placed like a window within a flat, beige background. In the center, a figure barely recognizable as human flows over the lower edge of the black square. On each side panel, Bacon appears as a painted photograph of his own head pinned to the space above a pair of disembodied legs. Each of these has one foot stepping into the blackness. It's a portrait of the artist bowing out, dying as fearlessly as he lived. And without a trace of sentiment, making death majestic.




Bringing Home Francis Bacon: 


The Tate Britain Retrospective and The Colony Room






"If you see someone lying on the pavement in the sunlight, with the blood streaming from him, that is in itself the colour of the blood against the pavement is very invigorating . . . exhilarating."


It is perhaps fitting that the most important retrospective of the work of Francis Bacon – the greatest British painter of the 20th Century – opened in the same week as his old watering hole, The Colony Room called last orders for the final time. You probably didn't have to strain too hard to hear the spectral voice of Muriel Belcher snapping waspishly: "Don't let the door hit you on the way out, cunty", as the last of the disparate crew of drinkers dispersed into Soho for the last time; descending its creaking wooden stairs past the sign that announced sternly: "This Is Not A Brothel".

The first time I ascended those stairs I nearly got knocked back down again by John Hurt who was being helped on his way by alcohol, gravity and a gentle push from some burly chaps, who shouted after him: "Fuck off!" I was signed in by a journalist friend; even then the membership was on the wrong side of £500 per year. It was a lot of money just to have access to a bar ("Don't call it a club – they'll tear your eyes out") not much bigger than the bathroom of your average Wetherspoons dive. The dingy green paint work ("Emerald? EMERALD?! That's bloody peacock green!") contained a motley bunch of characters; professional ponces, the almost destitute aristocracy, resting poets and actors, artists – all of them entertaining; all of them thirsty. While waiting for a drink I noticed a slightly nicotine enhanced Damien Hirst spot painting propped up behind the optics, gathering ash and other detritus, money knocked off its six figure value with every shot of whisky poured no doubt. (The urbane manager Michael Wojas told me that if the insurance on the art contained in the little space got any more expensive then he'd have to shut up shop for sure – perhaps this is what happened? One thirsty punter Michael Andrews had his slate cleaned in return for painting a mural for the bar known as Muriel's. It is estimated this piece will fetch around £30,000 when auctioned this month.) It was, they said, the anti-Cheers. A bar where everyone knew your name but called you cunt all the same. 




                                                              Study for Nude 1951  

                                         Collection of Samuel and Ronnie Heyman



A good looking woman of indeterminate age spied me and announced: "Darling, there's something wrong with my tits. Would you give them a squeeze for me please?"

I stuttered for a second before she grabbed my hands and placed them on her chest. "Go on!" she yelled. "Give them a good squeeze." I obliged and she demanded: "Well?"

"They're fine."


"They're fabulous, I mean."

She brightened, released my hands and said: "Excellent. EXCELLENT! You'd better buy me a gin and tonic then!"

I reeled from punter to punter who in turn reeled me in. I stood at the bar ordering a G&T while some clattered posh guy told me about the ideal shoes to wear for fighting. ("For God's sake don't wear sandals or Wellington boots.") What a bunch of freaks. I felt immediately at home.

Later on that evening, the atmosphere of the room changed immediately when the loud and rambunctious crowd became respectful and parted for Francis Bacon's brother, who had come to visit patrons of the bar.

"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. It's to do with the unusualness of it. I once saw a bad car accident on a large road, and the bodies were strewn about with broken glass from the car, and the blood and various possessions, and it was in fact very beautiful. I think the beauty in it is terribly elusive, but it just happened to be in the disposition of the bodies, the way they lay and the blood, and perhaps it was also because it was not a thing one was used to seeing . . . It was midday, when the sun was very strong and on a white road."




                      Study for a Portrait 1953 Hess Art Collection, Berne. 



Francis Bacon was The Colony Room's first ever regular. It opened its doors in 1949 and he had just had his first one man show and painted Head VI the iconic painting of a screaming bishop in a clear box that the Tate have used on their posters for the retrospective. However he was far from established — he also became a tout for Muriel's that year. He was paid £10 a week and given free drinks, just to hang around in the bar. He at once attracted and repelled the right and wrong sort of people respectively to the afternoon drinking den. The focal point of the painting is the gaping mouth screaming in fear, with the rest of the face obscured by thick, vertical lines of black paint, leaving masses of inverted canvass still bare. It was as if he had taken sandpaper to the vision of the surrealists and the American abstract impressionists who had captured the imagination before the war, scrubbing away at the cinematic visions leaving just bloody and raw reality in place. A religious figure experiencing nihilistic terror predicted a bleak second half of the 20th Century. The paint on the earliest surviving Bacon pieces (exhibited here) was still drying when the Potsdam Agreement was being finalized at the end of World War II but there was no VE Day for the painter. He proceeded immediately from WWII to the cold war as he'd proceeded directly from a strict, middle class Irish Catholic upbringing to a life of brutal masochism in the flesh pots of Soho and Tangiers. From enforced and hypocritical civility to bestial aggression.

The strips of bare canvas acted as a reminder of the reality of what you were looking at. He stripped away at the layers between viewer and painting in other ways as well. Early works showed a fascination with the bared teeth of the baboon, which would scream from the outline of a human bust (Head I 1947). Man's brutalizing nature had been exposed permanently by the war; it was impossible to disguise the fact any more. This theme would always be with him. His unsettling picture of Peter Lacy (Study For A Portrait 1953), mocks us by thrusting our own mortality in our faces; his rictus, skeleton grin, pokes through the flesh of his face. We were animals, there was no pretending any otherwise. 




                                         Study after Pope Innocent X by Velazquez 1951

                                           Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums Collections 



"Nietzsche forecast our future for us — he was the Cassandra of the nineteenth century — he told us all it's all so meaningless we might as well be extraordinary." 

To Bacon, the body was a cage and he showed it captured and capturing; his subjects were pinned to the canvas as if by a lepidopterist. Arrows, pins, Nazi arm bands, hyperdermic syringes held the wriggling carcasses in place. In the 40s and 50s he favoured implacable vertical stripes of paint that looked like prison bars (it's widely held that Jonathan Demme based Hannibal Lecter's perspex cage in Silence Of The Lambs on a Bacon painting). He expanded this further when started portraying subjects inside a 'space frame', thin white lines suggesting a translucent cage restricting movement within the painting itself. Through his screaming bishops (such as Study After Velazquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X 1953) he put religion itself on trial as if it were Adolf Eichman 'the architect of the Holocaust' on trial in Israel.

His detractors saw his paintings as an expression of the nihilism and self-loathing of a masochistic and alcoholic homosexual — and such is the power of his vision, some still see him like this. Bacon saw beauty in the horror of our condition though. The sublime pleasure of the here and now replacing supernatural belief and arbitrary morality. While it was true he had a drink problem, he probably wasn't an alcoholic but rather he liked their company. He spent a lot of his time in places like The Colony it is true but his modus operandi was to buy others drinks, constantly topping up everyone else's glass and slopping the rest on the floor. He certainly drank less than his lovers, and especially less than George Dyer who was the muse for so many of Bacon's masterpieces, including the stunning Triptych MayJune 1973 painted after the suicide of the subject in Paris. The panels show him shitting, vomiting and dying, no longer trapped by life. And even here Bacon finds a moving beauty in the indignities of life that very few other painters have ever dealt in let alone captured. 




                                       Study for a Portrait of Van Gogh VI 1957

                              Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London 


Francis Bacon Tate Britain   11 September 2008 – 4 January 2009     





   Old School Bad Boy’s Messy World






LONDON — That the Francis Bacon retrospective here at Tate Britain has been mobbed since opening several days ago should surprise nobody. The show is a landmark, a knockout, and its timing turns out to be nearly perfect.

Sixteen years have passed since the Irish-born Bacon died, at 82, during which the art world has radically changed, and the generation of Americans weaned on postwar abstraction and congenitally skeptical of Bacon is being gradually displaced. The other day there were dozens of young art students, not a few of them sketching, in front of the pictures. I suspect the same will happen when the show, judiciously organized by Matthew Gale and Chris Stephens, lands in Madrid, then New York. Bacon suddenly looks fresh.

How so? Late in life, it’s true, he became, contrary to his sensational art, a sort of old-school gentleman, chivalrous and immensely kind when he wished to be, reticent otherwise, a monument of postwar Britain who, for a curious guest, would rehearse the old lines and visit old haunts like the Colony Room, the run-down drinking club where he paid for bottles of Champagne from a thick wad of cash he kept rolled up, à la Al Capone, in a pocket of his suit. (The ill-fitting suits, long after he could afford Savile Row, came from a neighbourhood tailor to whom, typical of Bacon, he remained loyal.)


In those days he was painting works like a second version of the triptych Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, the original of which in the mid-1940s had confronted a battered, convalescent nation with what’s commonly called the shock of recognition. Now he was remaking the work, as his friend the painter Lawrence Gowing put it about late Bacon generally, to look more “classically serene.”   


“I’m an optimist, but about nothing,” Bacon kept repeating, while lamenting his old age as “a disease, a desert, because all one’s friends die.” He loved to quote Yeats and Proust and T.S. Eliot and remained enmeshed in what Michael Leja, an American art historian, has in a different context called “Modern Man discourse” — a serious hand-me-down passel of existentialism and other philosophy from the 1940s and ’50s, popularized, as David Alan Mellor writes in an essay in the show’s excellent catalogue, by the claustrophobic spaces of film noir. This netherworld of dingy hallways and shuttered rooms had long been the arena of Bacon’s art. 


So in various respects, by his late 70s, Bacon had come to seem something of a throwback; it was widely said his best work was behind him. But since then historians have mined the sources from which he cribbed images and opened up the crucial subject of gay sexuality in his work, which was long repressed, and this, along with his bad-boy reputation, which never goes out of fashion, has made him a source of steady fascination, never mind the lurid films and biographies and the admiration of art-world celebrities like Damien Hirst. Most important, with the breathing space of a little time, it’s become obvious how pure a painter he was, not just early on.


His repertory — “brand” would be the word Mr. Hirst might use — of bloody carcasses and monsters; the mutilated, decomposing heads with immaculate teeth; the mangy dogs and screaming popes and salary men, silent and watchful, caged like zoo animals, then enclosed behind the gold frames and reflective glass, in which we too appear like ghosts: it’s all already there in his work by the mid-1950s.


So is the touch. In Figure Study I or Head II, from the ’40s, the surfaces are busy and dense like stucco or tweed, or thick as an elephant’s hide, but with exquisite veils on top — a mix of roughness and fragility, aggression and sensuality that would define the work across the career. Bacon also swiped thin washes of purple, black and white over what looks like raw canvas to paint his first pope, fussing the gaping mouth, creepily. Spectral hints of gold brocade, refined like Chinese calligraphy, glimmer in the ether.


Elsewhere beefy men wrestle and dive into pools of blue-black nothingness. Against high-key fields of red and orange, half-animal, half-human blobs recline like patients on an operating table or they melt and evaporate. Bacon traveled during the late ’50s to Tangier, absorbing local color, allowing his technique to loosen, producing Study for a Portrait of van Gogh VI, a clangorous mass of red and green, improbably successful, and he painted a few messes too, like Figure in a Mountain.


Out of all of that came, by the ’70s and ’80s, we can see in the Tate show, yet more complex architecture, a widened palette, and a calculated willingness to risk failure. Within the narrow terrain he mapped at the start, with its melancholy and blend of private with literary iconography, Bacon didn’t just repeat himself.


Several triptychs and portraits, reflecting on the suicide of his companion George Dyer in 1971, mark a clear experiment in conflicted sentiment; they’re heartbreaking but simultaneously clinical. As a friend of Bacon’s, the editor Nikos Stangos, once put it, Bacon “never expressed moral indignation about anything.” That in a nutshell explains the work’s ruthless elegance.


Some really appalling late pictures, like a large triptych from 1976, which some squillionaire recently paid a fortune to buy, look horribly overstuffed with ugly heads and tired gimmicks, as if Bacon, worried he had exhausted the empty stretches of color he so often painted, didn’t know when to stop filling the canvas up. Whether, during these last decades, he came merely to parody himself, painting too slickly, is the only real subject of debate the exhibition has aroused. The answer is, yes, sometimes he did.


All the same, he made, out of the blue, Jet of Water, a great ejaculation of splashed white pigment, which looks stunning. Despite his blindness to pure abstraction — which, having a tendency toward decorativeness, he feared led only to empty gesture — he devised a Rothko-like picture, sinister and wry, called Blood on Pavement. Even the second version of that early triptych of figures at the base of a crucifixion turns out to have its own eloquence, almost daring a viewer to find it too beautiful.


Cunning and self-conscious, glad to outrage, with the delicacy of those blurry but somehow distinct faces and electric palette, conjuring up Carnaby Street, his work translates quite easily to a new century. So does the sweaty sex and violence, luxuriant but couched in aloofness and girded, always, by grand allusions to old masters and learned texts.


Karl Georg Büchner, the 19th-century German playwright, speaking of which, once asked a question that Bacon must have come across. “How,” Büchner inquired, “can you not hear the terrible screams all around that we call silence?”


Through the popes and Willy Lomans and so much else that Bacon painted, they make this exhibition sing.






                     Figure Study I, a work in the Francis Bacon retrospective through Jan. 4 at Tate Britain in London.







Bacon Portrait of Model May Fetch 7.5 Million Pounds in London 








   Portrait of Henrietta Moraes 1969 Francis Bacon


Sept. 24 (Bloomberg) – A Francis Bacon painting of his friend Henrietta Morase, one of the few women the artist painted, is expected to fetch as much as 7.5 million pounds ($13.9 million) when it comes up for auction in London.

The 14-inch-high (36-centimeter) head-and-shoulders portrait, showing the sitter turning to her left against a plain yellow background, will be included in Christie’s International’s Oct. 19 sale of contemporary art, the auction house said in an e- mailed statement. The sale takes place on the concluding Sunday of the Frieze Art Fair.

Moraes, a model, was a close friend of Bacon's during the 1950s and 1960s, spending evenings drinking with him, Lucien Freud and other Soho bohemians at the Colony Room Club. Bacon included Moraes in a number of his paintings using photos taken of her by John Deakin.

Dating from 1969, Portrait of Henrietta Moraes has been put up for sale by fellow Colony Room regular Garech Browne, a member of the Guinness family, who bought the work in 1970. The painting is inscribed by Moraes on the back of the canvas.

"I remember well my years in Soho,'' Browne said in the e-mailed release. He met Freud at the age of 12. "Lucian would take me to the Gargoyle Club where Johnny Minton, Francis Bacon and Stephen Spender were often to be found. I would not be allowed in by the bouncers so Lucian would put me under his long overcoat and I walked on his feet to gain entry.''

Browne went on to found Claddagh Records and oversee the formation of the Irish folk group the Chieftains, said Christie’s.

In July at Sotheby’s, in London a similar-sized 1967 Study for Head of George Dyer by Bacon sold for 13.8 million pounds with fees, said the saleroom result tracker Artnet.

Bacon is the subject of a retrospective exhibition at Tate Britain that runs through Jan. 4, 2009.

Moraes battled drink and drug addictions, had many lovers, once shared a flat with singer Marieanne Faithful and was sent to prison after an unsuccessful attempt to become a cat burglar. 





Bacon and Rothko in London




By Valerie Gladstone | New York Sun | September 24, 2008


LONDON — Art lovers will soon be able to take a picturesque boat ride on the Thames River between two of the most important museum exhibitions of the year. Tate Britain is celebrating the centenary of Francis Bacon, widely regarded as Britain's greatest painter, by bringing together 70 works never before shown in one exhibition and representing every period of his life. Later this month, the museum's provocative young sibling, the Tate Modern, will feature the first major exhibition dedicated to the late works of Mark Rothko (1903-70), the American painter who created a new and impassioned form of abstract painting. The show includes more than 50 paintings and works on paper from between 1958 and 1970. For the first time, 15 of Rothko's monumental Seagram murals will be shown alongside more than 30 other landmark paintings. Coincidentally, sales of Bacon's and Rothko's paintings broke records for sales of postwar art at Sotheby's last May, a work by Bacon fetching $52.7 million and one by Rothko, $72.8 million.






                  Study of a Dog (1952)  Francis Bacon


"What's particularly interesting about this Bacon show," a Tate Modern curator, Matthew Gale, said, "is that it looks back on his career in light of new research that emerged with the opening up of his studio and its contents since his death. Altogether new aspects of the man have been revealed that shed enormous light on his visual lexicon."


Bacon was born in Dublin to English parents. His studio was recently dismantled and then reconstructed within the Dublin City Gallery. As a result, scholars have been able to evaluate more than 7,500 objects related to the artist. These include illustrated publications, photographs, press cuttings, notes, drawings, medical textbooks, books on psychic phenomena, artists' materials — among them several pairs of corduroy trousers used to apply paint — and slashed canvases. Through them, scholars now better understand Bacon's working methods and sources of inspiration. Some objects will be exhibited in an archival room adjacent to the paintings' galleries. Mr. Gale co-curated the exhibition with Chris Stephens, head of displays at Tate Britain.


"We learned that he took far longer to paint his works than he admitted to," Mr. Gale said. "And that he extensively used photographs and other illustrative material. He drew inspiration from things as disparate as the works of Michelangelo and Eliot's 'The Wasteland.' We now better understand the incredible processing that he went through to make his art."


To demonstrate the relevance of Bacon's sources, such as clinical representations of animals and emotional landscapes, these objects will be displayed next to his representations of the body. In Three Studies for Figures at the Base of Crucifixion (1945), which features writhing half-human, half-animal forms, he overthrew artistic conventions by using the triptych format of Renaissance altarpieces to show the evils of man, rather than the virtues of Christ. While this work has long been at the Tate, in this exhibition it will be shown for the first time with other related, celebrated paintings and triptychs including Study after Velazquez's Portrait of the Pope Innocent X (1953), Crucifixion (1965), and In Memory of George Dyer (1971).

"What I find amazing," Mr. Gale said, "is that even after all the preparation for this exhibition, looking at Bacon's paintings still makes my spine tingle. I never stop being overwhelmed."


The curator of Modern and Contemporary art at Tate Modern, Achim Borchardt-Hume, who organized the Rothko exhibition, is equally passionate about his subject. "The key to this period," he said, "is the 30 monumental Seagram murals that Rothko made between 1958 and 1959 for the Four Seasons Restaurant [within New York's Seagram building]. He never gave them to the restaurant because he eventually felt they wouldn't be appropriate there, and toward the end of his life donated nine of them to the Tate because of his love of our Turners."


Rothko wanted the works to be shown together, and so the museum created the Rothko Room. Other important Rothko murals were borrowed from Japan's Kawamura Memorial Museum and Washington's National Gallery for this exhibit. "It is a huge coup for the Tate to have the loan from the Kawamura, which never lent works to an international exhibition before," Mr. Borchardt-Hume said. Shown with Rothko's Black-Form and Black on Gray paintings and his Brown on Gray works on paper, the result is a very different impression of the artist.


Maintaining his focus on formal elements, such as colour, shape, balance, depth, composition, and scale, Rothko began to darken his palette dramatically during this period, turning from bright, intense colours to deep red, maroon, brown, and black. He also turned from closed forms to open ones that look like a threshold or entrance. "I believe he would have wanted viewers to see these together," Mr. Borchardt-Hume said. "Like his chapel in Houston, they create a meditative experience. They need time to be appreciated. Only as you look carefully do your eyes begin to adjust. It's a curious dynamic, almost like listening to music."


After London, the Bacon exhibition will travel to the Prado Museum in Madrid from February 3 to April 19, and then to the Metropolitan Museum of Art from May 18 to August 16. The Rothko show will travel to the Kawamura Memorial Museum of Art in spring 2009.


Francis Bacon, until January 4 at the Tate Britain

Mark Rothko, September 26 to February 1 at the Tate Modern





Painting that packs a punch



He may be the newly crowned darling of the auction world, but Francis Bacon's work can still raise the hairs on your neck







A visitor views Three Studies for a Crucifixion, 1962, part of Tate Britain’s retrospective of Francis Bacon.



LONDON — News arrived recently that it will soon be last call at the Colony Room, that dank thimble of iniquity above the streets of Soho. During the 1950s and 1960s, the club's proprietor, Muriel Belcher, presided like a foul-mouthed mother hen, referring to male patrons as "she" (and worse) and railing against the actions of "that nasty Mrs. Hitler." Dylan Thomas once graced the floor with his evening's alcohol intake. Artists and tradesmen were indistinguishable under cover of booze and profanity.

On most days, Francis Bacon could be found at the bar. At last orders, he would be bounced out with the other patrons, celebrated or not — the Colony did not discriminate — to begin a nocturnal adventure than might include gambling, rough sex and almost certainly more drinking. Whatever the evening had brought, the morning would find him at his Chelsea studio, painting.

As Tate Britain launches its new Bacon retrospective (a highlight, along with the Mark Rothko exhibition at Tate Modern, of London's gallery season), it's odd to think how the life of the painter, who was so secretive and so resistant to biographical interpretations of his work, has come to the forefront of the public imagination. "I have had the most extraordinary life," he told his friend and biographer Michael Peppiatt. "The life is more extraordinary than the paintings."The paintings, however, will long outlive Bacon, who died at the age of 82 in 1992. What a strange journey it has been: The man whose life was so outré, whose art was once so shocking that it was the subject of obscenity complaints, who viewed human flesh as meat (meat to be beautifully rendered on canvas, but still), is now the darling of the corporate world and the auction house. Bank of America is sponsoring the show, which is the Tate's third Bacon retrospective; this year, he became the world's bestselling artist, with his work fetching $190-million in one year alone. (One painting, Triptych, 1976, sold for $89-million in New York this spring.)

In the 6½ decades since Bacon's first major shows, we have had pickled sharks and sacred religious figures modelled in excreta, so what are the chances of a neck-prickling experience with mere painting, especially ones so familiar from reproductions?

But Head VI, in the first room of the eight rooms of the exhibition, is still as jarring as a shriek in a quiet room. Painted in 1949, it's the first of the "screaming pope" pictures (responding to Velazquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X), the figure's gaping mouth intended by Bacon to be "like a Monet sunset."

As a young man living in London — he had been expelled from the family home in Ireland at the age of 16, possibly for wearing his mother's underpants — Bacon would visit the food hall at Harrods to study slabs of raw meat. He was deeply influenced by Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin, and the film's screaming nurse was a likely source for the gaping mouth-wounds that recur in his work.

"Is the snarling mouth aggression or pain? It's not clear," says the exhibition's co-curator, Chris Stephens, standing in front of the Man in Blue series from the mid-1950s. Anyone who doubts Bacon's relevance to the contemporary world should check out these paintings, which could be titled Mad Men, This is Your Life. In each, the figure is dressed in a sharp suit and narrow tie, spectral face obscured but for the grimacing mouth, shoulders hunched and hands clenched, hemmed in by a claustrophobic blue background. If the point isn't clear enough, Bacon's painting of a shrieking baboon hangs in the same room: The only thing that separates us from the monkeys is that we learned to weave cloth and lie.

Stephens and his co-curator, Matthew Gale, have gathered 65 of the major works, with a couple of aims in mind: The first, says Stephens, to demonstrate Bacon's "passionate embrace of a Nietzschean atheism, that man exists in a godless state." One room has been set aside for Bacon's three major crucifixion triptychs, with their howling, tormented figures set against livid orange backgrounds.

The first, 1944's Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, brought Bacon shuddering into the public consciousness, as it was shown in the same month that the Allies liberated the death camps. In the other crucifixions, painted 20 years later, each panel is filled with senseless meat where in previous centuries the viewer would have found the glowing symbolism of afterworldly reward. Indeed, the curators have done such a good job in these eight relentless rooms that they perhaps should have set aside a stall at the end of the show for the distribution of Valium and nooses.

Maybe Bacon couldn't escape a brutal world view, given his early life — though he would surely have hurled abuse at such easy psychobiography. Born in 1909 to English parents in Ireland, Bacon was weedy and asthmatic and a constant disappointment to his overbearing father, who had the boy whipped by the family grooms for any transgressions (this, according to the Bacon myth, is what gave him his taste for sadomasochism.) He was chucked out at 16, and wandered through the decadence of Berlin and the richness of Paris before settling in London. He taught himself to paint, but he was a bitter self-critic and after early ambivalence from the art world gave up for 10 years, and destroyed most of what he painted in the 1930s and early 1940s.

A giant photograph of Bacon's studio dominates one of the rooms in the exhibition, although it looks less like a studio than a paint shop ransacked by a pack of Tasmanian devils. The floor is ankle deep in paper; hundreds of brushes are jammed into pots; stacks of books teeter in every corner (with a giant volume about Velazquez on top). Bacon was a compulsive collector of images — from medical books, newspapers, films, anywhere. A radiology textbook was as valuable as a newspaper clipping of a dying matador. His celebrated male nudes - it's unclear whether they're scrapping or loving, or possibly both at the same time - were inspired by Eadweard Muybridge's photos of Victorian wrestlers.

This is the other thread the curators drew upon — Bacon as the link between painting and photography, the artist most forcefully concerned with how to truthfully express the human figure in the age of the photograph.

"He could only paint people he knew," Stephens says, "and only in their absence." To that end, Bacon got his friend John Deakin to take pictures of the people central to his life: Muriel Belcher and artist Isabel Rawsthorne, his lovers Peter Lacy and George Dyer. The original photos are here, crumpled and torn and paint-spattered, a reminder of the roughness Bacon often showed to the people who loved him.

Dyer killed himself in a Paris hotel room the day before Bacon's major retrospective opened at the Grand Palais in 1971. He had already been a subject of several portraits, many of them at the Tate, in which he often looks ill at ease, his body twisted as he looks in a mirror or awkwardly rides a bicycle. Immediately after his death, Bacon began work a new triptych to memorialize his former lover; in it, he's fleshy, muscular, even a touch heroic.

For Stephens, the portraits of this period are "some of the great achievements of postwar painting." The subject matter may, unfairly, overshadow the technique, and so viewers are encouraged to get up close to the canvases, to see how Bacon layered and endlessly worked the paint — often using trousers or old shirts he had lying around the studio.

If Bacon resisted attributing any kind of meaning or narrative to his paintings, equally he was looking for that spark, the alchemy that happens when image and paint, foreground and background come together to deliver the equivalent of a roundhouse punch. How uncanny that someone often considered the greatest postwar painter, whose works are the centrepieces of auctions around the world, taught himself to paint.

Francis Bacon runs at Tate Britain in London to Jan. 4.





Saving the Bacon




By Emiliya Mychasuk and Emiko Terazono



The Financial Times, September 20th 2008




The hedge fund  managers being demonised by regulators can't be all bad - some of them are making a contribution as patrons of the arts, judging by the works shown at the Francis Bacon exhibition sponsored by Bank of America at the Tate. Among the artworks featured are those owned by J Tomilson Hill , the one-time head of investment banking at Lehman Brothers, now at Blackstone as the chief executive of the fund of hedge funds.


Hedge fund legend Samuel Heyman and his wife Ronnie have loaned the gorilla-like Study for Nude, painted in 1951. A 1980s corporate raider using debt provided by Drexel Burnham Lambert, he was prominent last year in the LSE/Nasdaq battle.


Another hedge fund titan with a Bacon at the Tate is the founder of SAC Capital Advisors, Steven Cohen and wife Alexandra. They own the surreal Study after Velázquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X, in the "screaming popes" series.







                                                                                                              Study after Velázquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X





Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an enigma



Revised and updated edition 



The Times, Monday 22 September 2008


Published in 1996, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma was the first in-depth study of the artist's life. It has not been superseded. In this substantially revised, updated edition — to coincide with the artist's centenary, which will be celebrated from autumn 2008 through summer 2009 — Peppiatt will incorporate confidential material Bacon gave him, which he did not include in the first edition. This valuable, first-hand information comes from the hundreds of conversations Bacon had with Peppiatt, often late into the night, over thirty years, particularly during the periods Bacon spent living and working in Paris. It includes insights into Bacon's intimate relationships, his artistic convictions and his general view of life, as well as his acerbic comments on his contemporaries. 

Peppiatt will draw on some of the fascinating information that has become available in the fifteen years since the artist died. Once jealously guarded by the artist himself, the contents of Bacon's studio can now be freely consulted; Peppiatt has had privileged access to these archives, and he will show how a number of recent discoveries — including wholly unexpected source material — have radically changed the way we look at Bacon's work. Similarly, his recent research into the artist's background — his tortured affair with the sadistic Peter Lacy in Tangier, for instance, and the baffling circumstances of his death in Madrid — will shed light on unexplored areas of Bacon's life and work. Peppiatt will also unveil new information from several people who knew Bacon intimately and who have never gone on record previously.








   Francis Bacon



        Alex Larman, Review, The Observer, Sunday September 21 2008  


Republished to coincide with the Tate's major retrospective of Bacon's art, Michael Peppiatt's biography has long been viewed by Bacon scholars as the definitive life of a fascinatingly flawed figure. The 'revised and updated' label is less exciting than it might appear, mainly consisting of extra gossip about people who have died since the book was first published in 1996, but there is no denying the often disturbing cumulative force with which Bacon — the man, the artist and, towards the end of his life, the commercial wonder — is presented. As an examination of his life and art, Anatomy of an Enigma is superb, but arguably it's even better as a portrait of the Soho demimonde in which Bacon thrived, vividly capturing the grubby ennui of postwar Britain that suited his grim sensibilities so well.





  Francis Bacon: Old Master




      By Richard Lacayo | Time | Friday, September 19, 2008



                                           Triptych, 1991, Bacon, Museum of Modern Art



I've been making repeat visits to the phenomenal Francis Bacon retrospective at Tate Britain. To get right to the point, it's one of the most powerful shows I've seen in more than 40 years of museum going. This is Bacon's fifth retrospective, and no show can hope to make his work new. His screaming popes and wrestling lovers and smeared portrait heads are too familiar for that. But this show, which was beautifully curated by Matthew Gale of Tate Modern and Chris Stephens of Tate Britain, organizes the work intelligently — by useful and roughly chronological themes, like Animal, Crucifixion and Memorial — chooses well, introduces the galleries with intelligent texts and then just stands back and lets this majestic work hit you.

The only important canvas that didn't make it to London is Painting 1946, which belongs to the Museum of Modern Art in New York because Alfred Barr, MoMA's first director, was prescient enough to buy it when he saw it two years later. (Will MoMA lend it to the Metropolitan Museum when the show travels to New York next spring after passing through the Prado? I'll ask.)

I'll have a lot to say about this show on and off in days to come, but here's one impression I came away with repeatedly. To see this many Bacons gathered together reminded me again how rare it is to see new art that attempts, much less achieves, a genuine tragic dimension. Irony you can find in any gallery these days, also low comedy, puerile cool and industrial strength enigma. But in a time that has its share of tragedy — have you noticed? — where is the art that even tries to strike an equivalent note? What we have almost no language for anymore, at least not in art, is acute pain.

Yes, I can think of exceptions. Some older artists like Magdalena Abakanovich, Christian Boltanski and of course Anselm Kiefer. (And let me add that little video I saw at the Venice Biennale last year that Sophie Calle made of her mother's last moments.) And there's a lot of great work by photojournalists — James Nachtwey is the obvious example but there are many, many more — that in a way has taken up where art has left off. But grief without irony, anguish without a punchline? It's hard to do. And it's hard to find.





The horror of the ordinary




Ireland's Hugh Lane gallery can take credit for some of the insights into Francis Bacon's methods that are a feature of Tate Britain's outstanding exhibition of the painter's work, writes Aidan Dunne







A YEAR IN advance of the centenary of Francis Bacon's birth, Tate Britain has stolen a march on the opposition and put together an outstandingly good retrospective of his work. While the Tate has the budget and the clout to bring in paintings on loan from far and wide in a way that is beyond the reach of any Irish gallery, the Hugh Lane gallery can afford to feel quietly pleased that the exhibition draws substantially on the research into the Francis Bacon Studio done here in Dublin, and incorporates some material from the studio. While other archival documents are also in evidence, the contents of the studio, which were excavated and researched in a meticulous, archaeological fashion, have proved to be enormously revealing of Bacon's working methods.

He has been periodically acclaimed as one of the most important figurative painters of the 20th century, and the greatest British artist since Turner, though there are doubters and detractors. There's always the risk that, subjected to the intense scrutiny afforded by a substantial retrospective, even the most established reputation will crumble. In this case, however, the Tate exhibition should confirm his reputation as a major artist, if not quite as brilliant a star as his most enthusiastic advocates would claim. He is not without artistic failings, including a progressive inclination towards self-parody and a certain carelessness that could work both for and against him, so that the paintings, even in a show as well selected as this one, are uneven. But, without question, the better ones, in their bravura audacity and inventiveness, are tremendously exciting to encounter.

Bacon, who died in 1992, was born in Dublin in 1909. Throughout his adult years Bacon retained a dislike of Ireland, largely because, while still in his teens, he was summarily banished by his father for, reputedly, dressing up in his mother's underwear and/or being caught in flagrante with a groom. He found himself alone in London, subsisting on an allowance from his mother, and drifted for several years, eventually spending time in Berlin and Paris and working as an interior decorator before seriously applying himself to being a painter.

The Tate's show is arranged thematically, rather than chronologically and, though a broad chronology does emerge, we get a welcome chance to see Bacon's work as a unity.

It is immediately apparent that he was brave enough to take real chances and, while he was not at all a technically adept painter, unlike say the astonishing Velásquez, of whose Portrait of Pope Innocent X he made several versions, he was frequently an inspired one, willing to make technical leaps in search of startling effects. In a way he had to take leaps, because his art is not academic, not built-up cumulatively on a solid armature of drawing and tone, volumes and spaces. It is something fleeting and glimpsed in the corner of the eye, blurred and ambiguous, and often its power derives from what we can't actually see in the work but what we think we might be seeing, something forbidden or dark or disturbing.

Bacon's descriptions of his own work, as trying to capture "the brutality of fact", or as going straight to the nervous system, are a clear statement of what he's after. Coming out of the second World War, and entering the age of uncertainty that ensued, he addressed an awareness of the human capacity for cruelty and atrocity, and a more personal, existential anxiety. An atheist, he drew extensively on religious iconography and the classical altar-piece format of the triptych. But, disconcertingly, his imagery modulated from such generalised symbols of human suffering to the domestically prosaic.

The Tate's own Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944) is quintessential Bacon. The weirdly hybridised bodies, conflations of internal and external anatomies, with predatory jaws, influenced by Surrealism and inspired by the Furies in The Oresteia of Aeschylus, anticipate the monstrous baby in David Lynch's film, Eraserhead, and, in subsequent incarnations, the toothy title creature in Ridley Scott's and HR Giger's Alien. Bacon's high art does recurrently veer close to the lowbrow thrills of pop-gothic sci-fi.

He returned to the Base of the Crucifixion several times and, despite the over-ripeness of some of his imagery, the paintings are quite powerful, with distinctly Pinteresque notes. But then many of Bacon's most powerful paintings from the 1950s, the studies of individual animals, of businessmen in suits, of popes and nude figures, could also be described as Pinteresque – except that they comfortably pre-date Pinter's emergence as a dramatist late in the decade.

RIGHT FROM THE first, Bacon tended to ratchet up the melodrama. Although influenced by cinematic imagery and montage (most famously the screaming nurse in Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin), he was an explicitly theatrical painter, placing his actors centre-stage against plain backdrops, augmenting the action with a few strategic props: light bulb, chair, bed, toilet bowl, washbasin. But the heads and bodies are often violently disassembled, their flesh hideously contorted. Painted equivalents of bodily fluids – blood, spittle, semen, vomit – swirl about the canvases.

Much of the time, the distortions relate to ordinary states of being, dramatically reconfigured, but Bacon also inclined towards graphic, visceral imagery, drawing on such sources as medical textbooks and photographs of the aftermath of atrocities. Bodies are torn apart and Snow's "secret", as revealed to Yossarian in Catch-22, is reiterated again and again: Man is meat.

While the figures and props in a great deal of Bacon's work, particularly in the 1950s, emerge like shimmering apparitions from velvety dark grounds, he became fond of using brighter, bolder colours as backdrops. These flat, often extensive expanses are thinly painted in contrast with the heaped, turbulent pigment that describes the figures. The effect can be starkly effective, though as time went by the backgrounds could come across as being just cursory or even misjudged.

Several critics have observed that the intense emotional pitch of the work is at variance with the mundane facts of Bacon's life when he made it. The critic Peter Schjeldahl, for example, has commented on his "histrionically miserable homosexuality". And there is an apparent mismatch between his relatively comfortable life – painting, usually with a hangover, from 7am, leisurely lunches at Wheeler's in Soho, afternoons drinking and conversing in the Colony Room just along the road, late-night drinking, and gambling at such places as Charlie Chester's Casino - and the tales of terror told in the paintings. But then the work can certainly be interpreted as being about the horror of the ordinary.

By all accounts, as well, Bacon was profoundly miserable at some level. Smart and acerbic, he was certainly difficult to live with. His romantic relationships were bristly, fraught, and tragic. One companion, Peter Lacy, died on the day a Bacon retrospective opened at the Tate Gallery in 1962. Nine years later, Bacon's companion, George Dyer, committed suicide by taking an overdose two days before the opening of another major retrospective, in Paris. The physically imposing but psychologically vulnerable Dyer was the inspiration and subject of some of Bacon's finest paintings, in life and death, works full of helpless, edgy tenderness.

Several accounts attest to the fact that Bacon was also a generous, loyal and affectionate friend. He courted the company of East End geezers, knew the Krays, and liked there to be a certain level of menace in the atmosphere. Several sources claim that he had a masochistic streak that could, and occasionally did, get him into real trouble. In his work, the union of two male figures, the subject of several of his most compelling paintings, is always an occasion of ambiguously violent grappling. Photographs of wrestlers served as a visual source. He was famously dismissive of most other art and artists, but then artists, intensely committed to their own vision, often are, and there was something defensive about Bacon's aggression, because he did doubt himself.

An avid and witty conversationalist, he was fortunate in finding a Boswell to record his thoughts. David Sylvester's Interviews with Francis Bacon, originally published in 1975 (though they'd been friends for a long time), is a classic of contemporary art writing.

For many years, virtually every art student prized it and read it out of interest rather than duty, identifying with Bacon's breezily offhand bohemian attitude and his frankness about the business of being a painter. It is still popular, though more recent research suggests that Bacon wasn't entirely frank, and some self-mythologising was involved. The association between Bacon and Sylvester strengthened and became a major factor in the perception of his work. Pretty much every major exhibition was overseen by the guiding spirit of Sylvester up to the time of his death in 2001.

THE QUESTION OF whether, and to what extent, Bacon made and used drawings, preparatory or otherwise, is oddly contentious and still partly open. He told Sylvester flatly that he did not make preparatory drawings. Perhaps, having made that assertion, he didn't want to contradict it, but it's hard to see why he should want to conceal the perfectly legitimate use of drawings when he was absolutely candid about using photographs as direct sources, and even central points of inspiration, something that was frowned upon in certain fine art circles at the time.

In any case, several accounts and examples of his drawings have emerged since his death. Even Sylvester owned up to seeing some casual sketches. Bacon certainly did make notes and thumbnail sketches, though not consistently. At least one person who was close to him during his lifetime claims to possess a group of more finished drawings. And his neighbour and occasional handyman, Barry Joule, controversially produced a trove of material, some of which resides in Dublin and some of which was acquired by the Tate. Whatever its status, this work is rudimentary in nature and never intended for exhibition.

Later on, one feels that Bacon would have reinvented himself but just didn't know how to go about it. The labyrinthine forms and empty backdrops became increasingly forced and mannerised. Uncertainties are apparent even in some work from the 1960s. In the Tate show we get to see a big 1976 triptych, apparently the painting for which Roman Abramovich set a new auction record earlier this year, and it's hard not to think, uh-uh, that's a second-rate Bacon, nowhere near the edgy uncertainty of the first-rank works. There's no invention or discovery; instead, the artist riffled anxiously through a collection of stock motifs, packing more and more of them in for added value. When working, he referred constantly to reproductions of his own paintings, and spoke of his frustration at not being able to recapture the spirit of paintings he'd made years earlier.

Yet he was still capable of bold strokes: Blood on Pavement, from 1988, is almost abstract, apart from a mess of blood and tissue smeared into the ground. It's an example of a route Bacon might have followed, one in which figure and ground are perfectly fused in an image of subtle menace.

Francis Bacon is at Tate Britain, Millbank, London, until Jan 4.





  A dark prophet




    The impact of Francis Bacon's disturbing paintings has not diminished one jot











With his pimento-shaped face, reminiscent of an overstuffed hamster, Francis Bacon appears in photos taken by his contemporaries and in a famous portrait by his friend Lucian Freud stolen in 1988 never to be seen again as one of the most recognisable artists of the 20th century. Doyen of Soho drinking clubs, he led a reprobate life that has been well documented, from an Anglo-Irish childhood, with a repressive father who threw him out for showing an overdeveloped penchant for stable grooms and for his mother's underwear, to his sadomasochistic love affairs with numerous men of the demi-monde.

The new Bacon retrospective at Tate Britain, the first since 1985, allows for a reassessment of his work in an age when shock and violence are common fare, in the art world and in daily life. An avowed nihilist and atheist, he was fraught with contradictions. "You can," he claimed, "be optimistic and totally without hope . . . I think of life as meaningless; [but] we create attitudes that give it meaning while we exist." Painting, alcohol and sex were the ways he sought that meaning.

Bacon, widely regarded as Britain's greatest painter of the figure, aimed to inherit a place in the pantheon beside Michelangelo, Velázquez and Rembrandt. He insisted that his pictures "were to deserve either the National Gallery or the dustbin, with nothing in between" – and undoubtedly won that gamble. Yet despite his extraordinary innovation and recasting of the human form, he cannot be seen as a true modernist. He was, for most of his career, sidelined by the American critics, who saw him as too figurative, too narrative, and too concerned with European art history and Christian iconography. Neither did he share their boundless optimism nor care much for the abstract expressionism promoted by the American critic Clement Greenberg. As he said: "I do not believe in abstract art because you must have a starting point in reality."

Today, as one looks back, more than a decade after his death in 1992, Bacon's sensibility seems supremely European. His postwar angst springs from the same ground as that of Giacometti and Jean Dubuffet, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus and Jean Cocteau, whose bleak dictum "If you see your whole life in a mirror, you will see death at work" Bacon admired. His 1955 painting based on the life mask of William Blake, that great outsider of British literature, nails his colours to the mast of iconoclasm and individuality. He lived by his own rules, both in his art and in his relish for the bohemian lowlife (homosexuality was still illegal) of Soho and the Colony Room. T S Eliot was a huge influence. The poet juggled with religious imagery for a secular age, whilst Bacon was a committed atheist, but both caught something of the existential isolation and abjection that defined postwar Europe.

Yet Bacon strongly denied a narrative message. He wanted his paintings to address the viewer's "nervous system directly" and to "unlock the valves of feeling" with his distorted forms, derived through chance, accident and appropriation. His paintings, he claimed, were a form of "exhilarated despair", and mankind "nothing but meat". He rejected the idea that his screaming popes, based on Velázquez's Portrait of Innocent X, shut in their claustrophobic glass cases, had anything to do with the image of the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, standing in a glass witness box during his trial in Jerusalem, or that his mauled, contorted bodies were born out of the horrors of the Second World War. Yet the famed detritus of his studio, posthumously saved by his heir John Edwards, reveals not only Bacon's passion for photography and film, but that his paintings were informed by images as diverse as illustrations from medical textbooks on diseases of the mouth, or the nanny's blood-spattered face from Battleship Potemkin. They were not, in other words, totally intuitive. It has long been acknowledged that Eadweard Muybridge's early photographs of movement were fundamental to Bacon's work.

So where should we place him now? To stand in front of his Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, painted in the 1940s, is still a deeply visceral and gut-wrenching experience. Bacon had come to know Aeschylus's Oresteia through Eliot's 1939 play The Family Reunion. The artist's three writhing Eumenides are barely recognisable as human figures. They have no eyes, only silently screaming mouths, bespeaking the fascination of that first generation of post-Freudians with the id and "the hidden presence of animal trends in the unconscious". Bacon's screaming baboons, sniffing dogs and bulls all blur the line between culture and abject nature.

There is also something prescient about both the popes and Bacon's men in suits. Study for Figure II (1953-55) shows a solitary man with blank eyes and gaping mouth, in a jaundice- yellow suit, isolated on some sort of platform against an empty, black space. This figure, which bears an uncanny resemblance to George W Bush, is one of Eliot's hollow men, heads stuffed with straw, whose "dried voices, when/We whisper together/Are quiet and meaningless". There is nothing, Bacon seems to be saying, so isolating and dehumanising as power. His impact has not diminished one jot.

Francis Bacon is at Tate Britain, London SW1, until 4 January 2009.






An object lesson in bringing home the Bacon



The life of the painter Francis Bacon was laid before us with exemplary clarity and some great stories





 Louisa Buck's Sunday Feature, Broken Images (Radio 4) accomplished a little miracle – it explained to the ignorant listener what it was that made up Francis Bacon, both the man and the painter, in 45 minutes of intelligent, informed and above all clear narrative and interviews. The discussion of modern visual art is notorious for encouraging, even relying on, waffle, buzzwords and opaque jargon – Buck's programme was an object lesson in how to do it right.

Of course, Bacon could be one of those artists whose character and influences spread themselves in front of the idly curious like an A-Z. But if not, and Bacon's worth can be obscured just as easily by the skilled arty show-off as any conceptualist, then Buck's achievement is all the greater, for not taking the easy route.

It helped that Bacon's life was fascinating. He spent the first 16 years of his life as the misfit son of a wealthy English Protestant family in an Ireland going through a revolution. His family were avid hunters and he, an asthmatic, couldn't go near horses or dogs. He was gay, was sexually attracted to his father and was banished from home when he was caught wearing his mother's knickers. He could have turned out a serial killer. Thank God he could draw.

He was a product of his background and his time. He was a child during one world war and a man during the other. He was influenced by film, by literature, by poetry, by sex, by everything. He embraced the chaos of the 20th century and participated in it as much as he reflected it.  

There were some great stories told, too. Here's one – he was painting a picture of a gorilla in a cornfield. It wasn't working. So he did what he usually did and added a few more strokes to see what happened. Could it be a bird? More paint – and it became a painting of an eviscerated crucified man, with a figure in front of him holding an umbrella. Wonderful. They should stick this programme on the tape guide to the Bacon retrospective at the Tate. But they won't.








Best of Bacon








                        Study for a Portrait 1952 Francis Bacon



The press view at Tate Britain for its latest retrospective of Francis Bacon (the first was in 1960, the second in 1985) buzzed with a level of anticipation I’ve not often encountered. A self-taught painter, Bacon mutilated most of the work he produced between 1933-45 at the time, but once his work became known his popularity was quickly established, lasting throughout his life, and is, it seems, growing by the day.

Tate’s current retrospective is very much a ‘best of Bacon’, taking a chronological approach through a selection of 71 works, broken only by two thematic rooms that group his Crucifixion works (a theme the artist drew on throughout his career) and selected archival material taken from Bacon’s studio that, after his death, was painstakingly uplifted and moved in its entirety to public display in his birthplace of Dublin.

I was more than slightly interested to see this show, principally because I’ve never really been able to make up my mind about Francis Bacon’s work. I first came across Bacon’s name as a teenager under the spell of Lucian Freud’s drawings – in particular Freud’s 1951 portrait of Bacon – but never quite felt the impact that Bacon intended in his works so that the ‘paint comes across directly onto the nervous system’ – but I wanted to. Granted, the colour, scale (from the 1960s onwards Bacon rarely deviated from the 2-metre high by 1.5 metre wide format; three for the triptychs) and compositions are both arresting and impressive. But the paintings’ essence of human vulnerability, of man existing as just another animal or mound of flesh in a godless void (Bacon in a butcher’s shop apparently wondered why he himself wasn’t one of the carcasses), didn’t for me deliver the haunting psychological darkness and brutal isolation evident in the harrowed lines and down-turned eyes of some of Freud’s etched sitters. And walking through the Tate galleries, it still doesn’t. Put simply, it’s a big idea, boldly done, to the same effect each time. But it’s also an idea that’s been given more depth of treatment elsewhere, for my money in words more than paint. It’s not for nothing that Bacon references the poetry of T.S. Eliot and Aeschylus in his paintings from 1967-84. I wonder what he made of Beckett.

It may be that some of the impact of Bacon’s paintings has diminished with familiarity and time. The same is not true of the artist’s persona. Only recently did I discover Freud’s opinion that his portrait of Bacon, stolen in 1988 while on show at Berlin’s Neue Nationalgalerie, was probably lifted by a fan of Bacon rather than one of his own. Bacon’s reputation for mutilating paintings, frequenting Soho drinking dens, having intense and abusive relationships in a time when homosexuality was illegal, and as the figurehead of London bohemians in a period now revered for its creativity, has secured his iconic status.

And the sort of material emerging from the detritus of his studio will do nothing to harm this image. It includes photography by John Deakin of Bacon’s close friends only (Isabel Rawsthorne, Freud, his lover George Dyer) commissioned by the artist who then painted them in isolation, using the image as reference. In addition, scraps of magazine and newspaper cuttings with photography of sportsmen and wrestlers or drawings by Michelangelo have been resurrected from the litter of Bacon’s studio and smartly framed and hung on the wall. I can’t help feelings it’s slightly voyeuristic to riffle so fastidiously through this material – particularly when these sources were often and openly acknowledged by Bacon during his lifetime. Tate curators have brought to our attention the lists of potential subjects they have found in the studio – lists Bacon denied making, instead asserting the spontaneity of his approach. There’s also a wall of so-called drawings – another process that Bacon denied – but these are simple outlines of position rather than the finished drawings being produced by Bacon’s contemporaries. No doubt interesting discoveries will be made about Bacon’s process and technique, but the real essence of Bacon is, ultimately, in his scream alone.

Francis Bacon is at Tate Britain until 4 January.





Francis Bacon: 'The man's a bloody genius'




Jonathan Jones on art





Have you had a chance to see Tate Britain's Francis Bacon retrospective yet? If not, get tickets, now. Get several. Join the Tate. Do anything to see it as much as possible. Follow it to the Prado and the

This is one of the most moving exhibitions I've ever seen. While recording a podcast tour, I nearly started to cry. Why? It was just the thought that such a giant among painters was alive and working so recently, here, in the city where I live. It thrills me to have been a baby when Picasso was alive, to have breathed the same air, and it thrills me in the same way to have shared the Earth with Bacon

He's not as good as Picasso - you can see that for yourself in a room at Tate Modern that puts their works side by side - nor is he as good as Matisse. But nobody else in the 20th century painted better than
him. That's putting it modestly. Bacon invited direct comparison with the old masters and stands up to the challenge he set himself. The supreme thrill of this show will come when it reaches the Prado and he encounters his hero Velázquez directly. I hope I get a chance to see it there - although I found the Tate showing superlative





  Francis Bacon  


  Until Jan 4 2009  Tate Britain


     By Ossian Ward, Time Out, September 15, 2008




                                Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne 1966 Francis Bacon



Despite the post-war gloom into which Francis Bacon’s early hunchback characters shambled, the world wasn’t, and thankfully still isn’t, anywhere near as dark as he made out. At art school they teach you that there’s no such thing as total black, that even the darkest anthracite coal or most pitch-matte surface still reflects neighbouring colours. But Bacon never went to art college. Indeed, walking around Tate’s magnificently murky retrospective of the Irish-born Londoner, one might think he arrived fully formed as a fearsome talent in 1945, without ever having picked up a brush before. This is part of the myth of Bacon as self-taught, closeted Nietzschean genius who wore his mother’s dresses and advertised his escort services as ‘Francis Lightfoot’ to make ends meet.

Personally, I can’t stand the seedy biographical emphasis put upon Bacon, and while he’d be delighted that it wasn’t still illegal, he’d surely hate the constant harping on about his homosexuality. Get all that out of your head, ignore the tittle-tattle about his racy lifestyle and the show’s pointless ‘Archive’ room of source materials and Soho-scenester photos, and look closely at his pictures – especially at their blackness. Bacon seemed intent on being the greatest painter of black and white since his idol Velázquez, by concealing overcoated or besuited men and mangy monkeys in seas of inky infinity and by only flicking on the lights when absolutely necessary, either to hint at a wretched form or to provide outright shock.

Organised by theme, this exhibition whisks you through the ‘Crucifixion’, ‘Crisis’ and ‘Apprehension’ in his work but then downshifts into disappointing sections on ‘Portrait’, ‘Memorial’ and ‘Late’ periods. Even the first gallery, dedicated to depictions of the ‘Animal’, suffers by not including the dogs, chimps and bulls that crop up in subsequent rooms. The topics could have been much gorier, too: screaming heads, gnashing Popes, discombobulated torsos and ugly sex are just some of the treats in store for the kids.

Oh, and there’s lots of meat – as in Rembrandt, Hogarth or Soutine – there are limbs here that are nothing more than joints of beef, chests that are racks of ribs, as well as bloody loins, hocks and shanks. Bacon the Butcher has a better ring to it than that of his chosen profession, Bacon the Interior Decorator. The gruesome reaches camp crescendo in the cawing ravens and overflowing cups of blood in later, more melodramatic pictures, but you can’t help but admire his continuing lust for paint.

Like in life, so too in art, Bacon was better when not prevaricating, because his constant overworking could turn paintings into brass rubbings, whereas the thin washes on unprimed surfaces (or as ‘legend’ has it, on the rough backs of canvases) disappear deliciously into the backgrounds. These backdrops are almost the most fascinating elements in Bacon – odd spaces that are part boxing ring, part zoo enclosure and which eerily prefigure the see-through boxes that would imprison Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann and also Anthony Hopkins’s Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs.

Pummelled and melting faces suggest that he struggled with portraiture, but there’s no disputing Bacon’s mastery over the body. Most of the paintings here (thankfully not the usual suspects from easily accessible collections) are well over six-foot tall, meaning that we are both physically challenged by his figures and psychologically confronted by his malformed vision of humanity – that much discussed existential dimension of his work. The preponderance of triptychs also makes this display a must-see, with each panel like an increasingly contorted snapshot of a tri-partite metamorphosis – typically going from a standing, then splayed and disembowelled torso, perhaps on a chaise longue, to the final, upended hanging carcass.

The hype that puts him above all other painters of the twentieth century isn’t justified, but what he lacked in beauty and sensitivity he made up for in originality and honesty. What new do we learn of Bacon? That he worked on a bigger scale than generally imagined, that he could use colour if the subject demanded it and that, alas, the cult of personality will never let him rest in peace. He may even be happier merrily turning in his grave.







Francis Bacon Mutilated pope up for sale