Writer Peppiatt revisits Francis Bacon
Baker, San Francisco Chronicle,
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Michael Peppiatt, author of Francis Bacon:
Anatomy of an Enigma
British writer Michael
Peppiatt first published his widely appreciated biography of painter
Francis Bacon in
1997. Since then, he has kept abreast of everything he could find,
published and unpublished, concerning his notorious subject, who died at
82 in 1992.
Beginning in the 1930s, the largely self-taught Bacon made a
reputation - underground at first, then increasingly public - as a gay
sexual adventurer, in times and cities that then still treated
homosexuality as a crime. What he saw on the down-low, and many other
sources, informed the grotesque vision of his art.
Apprised well in advance of the internationally touring Bacon
retrospective currently at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art,
Peppiatt produced an even more absorbing revised version of his book,
Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma (Skyehorse; 456 pages; $16.95).
He discussed it with
me by phone from his home in London.
Q: Was it an advantage or a disadvantage to have known Bacon while you
were writing about him?
A: For me, it was essential. I'm not a biographer as such. ... It came
out of my fascination with the man and it was done partly to explain
that fascination to myself. ... I've met lots and lots of interesting
people but never anyone as compelling as Bacon. ... It was a terrific
stroke of luck to meet somebody like that when I was 19. I come from a
kind of conventional background and I'd never met someone so free and
daring and outrageous and inventive. I was at Cambridge studying art
history at the time... He sort of excited me about life in way I had
never been before. He did all kinds of things I had never done and had
no interest in doing but he impressed me by the way he lived and the way
Q: How did the book originate?
A: I'd met a literary agent, and when Bacon died, she was on the phone
with me immediately. ... He'd told me all these things over the years
and I'd noted them down. I did do a sort of ghastly literary portrait
early on - never published, thank God - and I showed him bits of that
and he thought then that it was too indiscreet. But I had that whole
manuscript to draw on.
Q: Should readers expect to recognize the new material for what it is?
A: Well, there's a new introduction and a postscript which takes the
story up to now in the Bacon world. But all the way through I've
threaded in things that I've thought of since, or that have come to the
surface, some very minor, some very important. I've sort of unstitched
and restitched the whole thing.
I went through and introduced many things, such as his relationship with
and debt to Picasso's work, because I've gotten more interested in
Also, a lot of people who were in Bacon's world are now dead, and I
couldn't speak freely about them before - Valerie Beston, for example,
who looked after his business affairs and really managed his whole
personal life for years, and (critic) David Sylvester.
There were people who were a bit tongue-tied before Bacon's death who
became looser after. I talked to his doctor quite a bit, something I
didn't feel I could do while he was alive. ... Dr. Brass said some very
interesting things about Bacon.
Also, I'm no longer in awe of Bacon, and he's no longer here to keep me
Q: Did Bacon and Picasso ever meet?
A: No, though they sort of knew each other through their common
friendship with Michel Leiris.
Bacon met Giacometti, though, and they struck up quite a lively
Q: Some years ago, Bacon's London studio was dismantled and
reconstructed in Dublin. Did you learn anything through that process?
A: That made no sense to me, just because he happened to be born there.
His home is in London or Paris, not Dublin. ... But I consulted on it a
bit and was able to see some of the excavated material - notes to
himself, descriptions of dreams, photographs.
Q: Was the Bacon enigma in any sense a failure of self-knowledge
on his part?
A: I did a show a couple of years ago called Bacon in the 1950s -
before he knew he was Bacon, you might say. They're the roughest,
clumsiest pictures but there is the extraordinary feeling in them of
someone not knowing what he's doing ... as though he was tapping into
something he didn't understand himself. ... So in a sense lack of
self-knowledge was an advantage at that point.
The content of the painting, the pain and suffering of it, remain an
enigma for me. Bacon was a very robust, energetic, life-loving person.
He could have black moods, usually brought on by a sort of waterfall of
drink. But I find going through the current exhibition that the sense of
pain and loneliness is so strong. He used to say, "I'm optimistic, but
Q:Have you made any discoveries since the book went to print?
A: There's always something bubbling up. In Venice last week somebody
presented me an invitation to a show of supposed Bacon drawings. ... I
walked for a long, long time and couldn't find it. But I know if I had,
that I would have had serious misgivings about what I saw.
I know that there are letters that will one day surface and give more
We need a good film about him. ... There is a fascinating attempt called
Love Is the Devil. The actors were brilliant, but it just didn't
capture the feel of the man.
Q: Would you consider taking part in such a project?
A: Oh yes, it's one of the most fascinating lives of the 20th century.
11 September 2008–4 January 2009.
Museo Nacional del
3 February–19 April 2009
Museum of Art, New York
18 May–16 August 2009
Studio International, 30/12/08
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
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.
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
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
(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
(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
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
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
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
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
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
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
3. Gale and Stephens, On the Margin of the Impossible, op.cit.,
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.
Lewis Jones is
fascinated and appalled by details of the demons that drove Francis
Daily Telegraph Saturday,
December 20, 2008
In search of a cruel father: Francis
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
Of shrieking forms
in a circular desert
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
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
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
Estado asegura en 1.252 millones las obras de Bacon que irán al Prado
Estado asegurará en un total de 220.127.116.112 euros 86 obras que se
mostrarán en la exposición que el Museo del Prado dedicará al pintor
británico Francis Bacon entre febrero y abril del próximo año.
El Consejo de Ministros ha aprobado hoy para esta
exposición el importe de la garantía pública estatal, un sistema a
través del que el Estado asume el compromiso de asegurar las obras de
relevante interés cultural que se presten para exposiciones celebradas
en museos de titularidad estatal frente a la posible destrucción, pérdida,
sustracción o daño que aquéllas puedan sufrir entre el acuerdo del préstamo
y la devolución de la obra.
El otorgamiento no tiene, por tanto, un coste
inmediato, sino un compromiso del Estado, como asegurador, para hacer
frente a un pago si alguno de los bienes culturales resultase dañado,
según explica el Gobierno.
El Museo del Prado tiene previsto inaugurar el próximo
3 de febrero Francis Bacon, una retrospectiva del pintor británico
(1909-1992) que actualmente se muestra en la Tate Britain de Londres.
La exposición, que podrá visitarse en el Prado hasta
el 19 de abril próximo, comprende obras que abarcan casi medio siglo de
creación continua, una actividad que se vio interrumpida por el fatal
ataque cardiaco que el artista sufrió en Madrid.
Para el director del Museo del Prado, Miguel Zugaza, 'es
una gran oportunidad que esta exposición internacional, posiblemente la
más importante que se va a hacer en décadas sobre Bacon, se pueda
mostrar en Madrid y muy cerca de las colecciones que él visitó tanto'.
La muestra forma parte de la estrategia de la
pinacoteca de abrirse a una relación con el mundo del arte más
Según afirmó Zugaza hace un año al anunciar el
proyecto de esta exposición, 'después de Picasso, Bacon es el más
indicado' de ese período para visitar el Prado.
Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective
News Thursday, December 18 2008
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
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 is made possible in part by The Daniel and Estrellita Brodsky
organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and Tate Britain,
London, in partnership with the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.
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."
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.
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).
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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. - www.metmuseum.org
bohemian Colony Room Club faces extinction
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.
Tweedie The Daily Telegraph 15/12/2008
Muriel Belcher with Francis
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
yesterday, Michael Beckett, chairman of the committee, said: "It
still is a great place; all the members love it.
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."
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.
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.
the formidable Muriel says about it all? There would be a few colourful
phrases in there, for certain.
for Bacon at major Paris art auction
11 December 2008
(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.
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
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.
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.
- 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.
Temptresses, Bacon’s Rubbish Fill Holiday Art Books
by Martin Gayford, Bloomberg, December 11, 2008
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.
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
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.
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
9 December 2008
Хуана де ля
я захожу к
себя, а не
в одном из
баров в Сохо.
Бэкон умер в
Мадриде в 1992
first dark image of Bacon's death
The Observer, Sunday December 7
detail from Catherine Shakespeare' Lane's Francis Bacon Homage Triptych
work. Photograph: Catherine Shakespeare Lane
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.
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
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.
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.'
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
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.'
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.
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
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.'
bed for Francis Bacon
and chaos, suffering and human meat, as seen in the works of an
unusually articulate artist
Jenkins, The Times
Literary Supplement, December 3, 2008
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.
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 –
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.
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”.
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
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.”
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
Gale and Chris Stephens, editors
288pp. Tate Publishing. £24.99.
978 1 85437 738 8
Studies for a portrait
272pp. Yale University Press. £18.99 (US $35).
978 0 300 14255 6
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.
theatre of the absurd
Francis Bacon at the Tate Britain, London.
By David Yezzi, The
New Criterion, December 2008
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.  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.
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.
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.
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
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
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,  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.
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
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.
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.”
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
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
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.”
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma,
by Michael Peppiatt; Constable, 456 pages, £12.99 paper.
Yezzi is the Executive Editor of The New Criterion.
20th Century Artists Present at Sotheby's Contemporary Art Sale in Paris
Daily, Tuesday, December 2, 2008
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.
PF8020 | Location: Paris
Auction Dates: Session 1: Wed, 10 Dec 08
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.
sable sur toile
oeuvre sera incluse dans le Catalogue Raisonné de l'oeuvre de
Francis Bacon actuellement en préparation par Martin Harrison.
Fine Art, Londres
McCrory Corporation, New York
McKee Gallery, New York
Edward R. Broida, Los Angeles
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,
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Francis Bacon, 1962, no.75
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Francis Bacon, 1963, illustré,
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
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
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,
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)
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.
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.
Francis Bacon, 1984. - © Hans Namuth.
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. - © The Estate of Francis Bacon/ADAGP,
Darwent recommends spending Boxing Day with Kandinsky's colours or on
Francis's studio floor
The Independent on Sunday, 30 November
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
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
Times books of the year: Art
Sunday Times, November 30, 2008
It was, of
course, an image inspired by the Bolshevik revolution - the bloodied
face of the nurse from Eisenstein's 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
appears in several places (in one, seemingly pulling his trousers down)
in Lucian Freud's 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
Freud's 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.
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
Sunday Times, November 30, 2008
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.
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.
canvas to cameras
, The Independent, Friday, 28
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.
of Bacon defy art auction gloom
News Australia, 25 November 2008
paintings of Francis Bacon, by an Australian artist believed to have
been his lover, were sold for well over their pre-auction price last
by Roy de Maistre - Francis Bacon's Studio and Portrait Of
Francis Bacon - were sold for $180,000 and $96,000 respectively at
Sotheby's sale of modern Australian art in Melbourne.
paintings, among a collection of six de Maistre works, had not been seen
by the public for nearly 50 years.
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 Sotheby's Australian paintings, told Reuters.
of de Maistre's paintings sold tonight."
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 Sotheby's at between $37,600-$50,000 and
paintings specialist David Hansen said they had been painted in the
1930s, when the two artists were "associating."
were certainly closely associated both personally and professionally.
Close, but exactly how close is not known," Mr Hansen said of the
who died in 1968, was considered a leading exponent of early modernism
died in 1992, is believed to have made de Maistre's acquaintance when he
was about 20-years-old, possibly in France or London.
Bacon: Studies for a Portrait
(208p) ISBN 978-0-300-14255-6
having already written Bacon's 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.”
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
Rare works about Francis Bacon defy art auction gloom
Reuters, Monday November 24, 2008
Portrait of Francis Bacon Roy
(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 Sotheby's 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
six of the de Maistre's works on offer were painted in London in the
1930s when the two artists were associating," David Hansen, senior
researcher and paintings' specialist at Sotheby's, told Reuters.
Bacon's Studio, with a pre-sale estimate of between
A$60,000-A$80,000 ($37,600-$50,000), depicts one of Bacon's 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.
young Bacon was well known amongst members of London's gay subculture
for his cosmetic display," Hansen said.
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."
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.
on offer have a collective pre-sale estimate of A$3.3 million-A$4.4
million ($2.1 million-$2.75 million).
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
Maistre's acquaintance when he was about 20 years old, possibly in
France or London.
by Pauline Askin, Editing by Miral Fahmy)
AU0724 | Location: Melbourne
Auction Dates: Session 1: Mon, 24 Nov 08
Portrait of Francis Bacon Roy
de Maistre 1935
ROY DE MAISTRE, AUSTRALIAN, 1894-1968
PORTRAIT OF FRANCIS BACON
Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium: 96,000 AUD
Trustees of the New Atlantis Foundation
Glady MacDermot; thence by descent
Private collection, Switzerland
Maistre: A restrospective exhibition of paintings and drawings 1917-1960,
Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, May-June 1960, cat. 40
LITERATURE AND REFERENCES
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
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
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
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
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.
AU0724 | Location: Melbourne
Auction Dates: Session 1: Mon, 24 Nov 08
Francis Bacon's Studio Roy de
ROY DE MAISTRE, AUSTRALIAN, 1894-1968
FRANCIS BACON'S STUDIO
Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium: 180,000 AUD
91 by 76cm
lower right; dated 1932 on the reverse
Trustees of the New Atlantis Foundation
Glady MacDermot; thence by descent
Private collection, Switzerland
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.
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.
LITERATURE AND REFERENCES
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,
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
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
ARTES Y LETRAS Especial/El Nuevo Herald
Nuevo Herald, Miami, 23 de Noviembre del 2008
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.
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
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 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
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.
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.
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. •
Bacon: Space and Surface, symposium organised by Brian Hatton
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.
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.
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
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
Eden The Daily Telegraph 15
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.”
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
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,
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.
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)
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
Study for Self
Portrait 1964 Francis Bacon
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).
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
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.
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
Prices at both sales
were set earlier in the year before the financial crisis and are now
considered far too high.
Art market in shock
as Christies calls halt to Francis Bacon sale
The Times, November 13, 2008
self portrait failed to sell at a Christie's auction last night
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
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.
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
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
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
"There is still so much liquidity and so many buyers from
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
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.
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."
No buyer for a
Bacon as New York art sale ends
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.
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
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
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.
panic in the market, but there is an adjustment," he told Reuters,
contrasting that to the volatility gripping other markets such as oil or
"While it had
declined, you've seen it find a stable level, with a lot of
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."
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
Carol Vogel, The New York Times, November
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
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
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.”
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.”
Tate Britain (sponsored by Bank of America), until 4 January 2009
Lambirth, Spectator, Wednesday, 10th September 2008
Francis Bacon in Soho 1970 James Jackson
At Tate Britain is a
glorious centenary show of paintings by one of our greatest modern
painters, Francis Bacon. It’s more than 20 years since the last Bacon
retrospective at the Tate, but the Bacon industry has been chugging
steadily away in the interim. His studio — which the Tate declined,
astonishingly — was transported to Dublin, and opened there with much
fanfare over the vast archaeological operation of decoding the layers of
source material and detritus which comprise the studio floor. Then there
was the revelation of the cache of Bacon drawings (shown at the Tate in
1999) after the artist himself and the leading Bacon expert David
Sylvester had spent their lives insisting that Bacon never drew. Other
exhibitions have taken place — most recently Bacon in the 1950s at the
Sainsbury Centre in Norwich (2006) — and various books have appeared.
The Bacon industry,
then, is booming, and represents big business. Since the artist’s
death in 1992, the management of his estate (reputedly worth hundreds of
millions of pounds) has been transferred away from Marlborough Fine Art,
Bacon’s dealers since 1958, to Faggionato Fine Art in London and Tony
Shafrazi in New York, in a manoeuvre that cost some £10 million in
lawyers’ fees. One man caught in the crossfire was Michael Peppiatt,
the leading authority on Francis Bacon, and his official biographer. (Peppiatt’s
biography, Anatomy of an Enigma, was first published in 1996 and
now appears in a revised and updated version from Constable, priced
£12.99.) Although Peppiatt knew Bacon well for nearly 30 years, and
thus takes on the mantle of David Sylvester as chief Bacon interpreter,
he has been oddly marginalised by the estate. The massive task of
producing a three-volume catalogue raisonné has been assigned elsewhere
and even the accompanying catalogue to the Tate Britain show includes no
contribution from Peppiatt. Thankfully, Yale are about to publish
Peppiatt’s collected Bacon essays in a handsome volume entitled
Francis Bacon: Studies for a Portrait (£18.99).
I was privileged to
preview the Tate show with one of its curators, Chris Stephens, while
paintings were still being unpacked and hung. Stephens is an
enthusiastic and knowledgable man and clearly proud of the exhibition
— quite rightly, for it gives the public the chance to see an
excellent selection of great paintings. After all the necessary work of
organisation and research, Stephens emphasises his own enjoyment of
simply looking at the paint surfaces and effects Bacon achieves. The
artist would no doubt have approved: he employed all manner of
diversionary tactics when it came to explaining the work. As he said:
‘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.’
This show returns
you to the paint in no uncertain terms. Stephens claims his conservatism
of approach as a bonus: this exhibition presents the work largely
chronologically, grouped in loosely connected themes, without trying to
substantiate any particular theory. As Stephens says: ‘To make a
point, you have often to show the less good works. We didn’t want to
do that.’ Bacon was the great modern painter of the male figure, and
his themes encompassed mortality, and the futility and solitude of life.
There is less violence in the work than is often suggested by stories of
the artist’s own rackety bohemian existence and taste for
Bacon is famous for
using photographs as source material, in fact preferring good
black-and-white photos to the actual person if he was painting a
portrait. As Stephens notes: ‘One of the peculiar things about Bacon
is how open he was from very early on about his subject matter.’ He
made no effort to disguise his use of photography, as demonstrated here
in an Archive room. Transforming into telling painted images the reduced
information supplied by photos was Bacon’s speciality, and to this end
he employed all manner of formal strategies and devices to re-enrich the
image, such as different techniques of applying the paint and using the
reverse of the canvas. His actions were actually very controlled and
thought-through, and he was adept at texture, placing and drawing. He
was in fact an exceptionally skilled painter producing grand images of
the human condition, whose ambition was to make work for ‘either the
National Gallery or the dustbin’.
At Tate Britain, the
show starts with the paintings of 1945, and particularly Figure in a
Landscape, full of unusually worked paint, scratched in places,
loosely brushed in others, vivid and immediate in its effect. Bacon is
not known for his thick paint, but look at the ribbed and pelleted
facture of ‘Head II’ (1949). Then there is the series of men in
suits, thinly stained blue canvases in which the faces are worked subtly
in pink and white. Gradually the big familiar subjects emerge: the Pope,
the Crucifixion, van Gogh, the nurse from the film Battleship Potemkin.
Among these it is very good to find less well-known pictures. I had
never before seen Figure in a Mountain Landscape (1956), from
the Kunsthaus, Zurich, with its marvellous paintwork reminiscent of
Soutine. But the strength of the show can perhaps best be seen in the
room subtitled ‘Epic’, when Bacon sweeps the viewer through his own
literary obsessions (T.S. Eliot, Aeschylus, Lorca) in passages of
beautiful paint and disquieting imagery. In the last room, a canvas
entitled Study from the Human Body (1981) features a figure
disappearing into a void. It’s an immensely suitable note to end on,
but also an efficient summation of Bacon’s peculiar mixture of
exhilaration and despair.
not a huge show. Bacon was the master of the triptych, and there are 13
triptychs here, each counting of course as a single work. So, there are
70 paintings plus a handful of drawings. A good size for an exhibition
of such intense work (‘You have to abbreviate into intensity,’ Bacon
said); there’s a lot to absorb. The exhibition will tour to the Prado
in Madrid (3 February–19 April 2009), and then on to the Metropolitan
Museum of Art in New York (18 May–16 August).
For those who don’t
like Bacon, I can recommend the display of Victor Pasmore’s work in
Room 22 of Tate Britain (until 5 April 2009). Sometimes I yearn for a
different ordering of the art world, in which important artists who are
not — and may never be — brand names nevertheless receive the proper
showing the quality of their work deserves. Victor Pasmore (1908–98)
is a major figure in 20th-century British art, a superb and poetic
realist painter (Whistler meets Seurat) who underwent a much-publicised
conversion to abstraction in 1948. Thereafter he produced collages and
contructions of radical geometric impulse and wonderful organic abstract
paintings. A great draughtsman and subtle colourist, Pasmore is not at
the height of fashion these days. His centenary is celebrated by a
single room at Tate Britain, which, however good, is too meagre a
representation. Interestingly, it’s also curated by Chris Stephens,
and it comes garlanded with a revealing quote from David Sylvester,
better known for his championship of Bacon. Of Pasmore he said: ‘No
other British artist of the 20th century has produced such a quantity of
beautiful work.’ That’s praise.
The Spectator, 22 Old Queen Street, London, SW1H 9HP. All Articles and
Content Copyright ©2007 by The Spectator (1828) Ltd. All Rights
BACON: Studies for a Portrait
University Press, 2008.
35 black-&-white illustrations, 208
£ 18.99 Published: November 18 2008
of the most elusive and enigmatic creative geniuses of modern times,
Francis Bacon was a man of endless contradictions and facets. In this
invaluable book Michael Peppiatt, a major art critic and close friend of
Bacon's, offers an entertaining and uniquely well-informed portrait of
this complex artist. Peppiatt's collection of interviews and essays spans
more than forty years - from 1963, when the two men met, to 2007, when
Peppiatt wrote an essay explaining Bacon's passionate involvement with
Van Gogh. The pieces in between include discussions of Bacon's working
methods and techniques, his unlikely relationship with his London
dealer, his attitude toward Christian belief and classical myth, and his
defining friendship with the eminent French writer Michel Leiris.
Peppiatt also provides fascinating anecdotes about the artist's early
life, his intimate relationships, and his connections with the artists
who were his contemporaries and friends. In addition, among the
interviews reproduced for the book are new transcripts of two interviews
presenting previously omitted material that brings out many little-known
aspects of Bacon's presence and personality.
University Press 2008
Francis Bacon with Michael Peppiatt
It all began with
Freud and Bacon...
made a bestselling career examining the mores of suburbia, but as Shena
Mackay admits, her literary life started in the fleshpots of Soho
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
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
after-hours haunt, the Colony Room, may be saved from closure
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
New York, Rockefeller Plaza
Lot 44/Sale 2255
Lucien Freud (b. 1922) Head of a Man
Head of a Man 1966 Lucien Freud
Lucian Freud (b.
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
The Collection of
Mr. H. J. Renton, London
His sale; Sotheby's, London, 30 June 1988, lot 643.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
Gallery, Lucian Freud: Recent Work, 1968, no. 12 (titled George
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
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.
Head of a Man 1966 Lucien Freud
Top 100 Treasures
Maneker, Art & Antiques, November 2008
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.
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.
tortures de Bacon
Échos, France, Lundi 3 Novembre 2008
Londres pour découvrir les aspects méconnus d'un peintre de génie et
la Tate Britain,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
: 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
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 $$!
of last resort.
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.”
Urbanist, at Tate Britain
Joseph Rykwert and others discuss art and architecture.
by Ned Beauman | Dazed Digital,
31 October 2008
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.”
in close focus
Rebecca Daniels praises the curators' discriminating selection of
works in Tate's impressive Bacon exhibition.
Daniels, Apollo, 1st November, 2008
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
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
Bacon har en
stillhet mitt i fasan
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.
Studies for a Portrait
SVD Sweden, 31 Oktober
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
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.
New York Times October
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Foundation, Tate Britain Auditorium, Wednesday 1 October 2008
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.
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.
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?...
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…
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.
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…
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.
The Daily’s Whitney Mallett gets a taste for meat as medium and
The McGill Daily,
Monday, Oct 27 | Volume 98, Issue 16
Francis Bacon & Meat by Francis
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
makes a meal out of tragedy
The Daily Telegraph 25/10/2008
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.
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.
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
2008, Francis Bacon's Triptych 1976 became the most expensive
work of contemporary art, fetching $86.3m.
& Contemporary Art Evening Sale
New York, Rockefeller Plaza 12 November 2008
27/Sale 2048 Francis Bacon (1909 - 1992) Study for
Study for Self-Portrait 1964 Francis Bacon
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.
million to $60 million)
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).
Fine Art, Francis Bacon: Recent Paintings, July-August 1965, no.
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
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).
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
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
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
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).
Detail from Study for Self-Portrait 1964 Francis