Centenary Exhibition Reviews - London

Brian Sewell. Francis Bacon died in April 1992, to the very day six months short of his 83rd birthday, and Tate Britain is about to open a centenary retrospective exhibition of his inseparable art and life. Long in the planning, this is to be shared with the cities of Madrid, where he died of the cumulative effects of pneumonia, asthma and a heart attack, and New York, where he had his most profitable success.
Inseparable art and life? For most of his many years it was simply not possible to speak or write of Bacon’s private life, whispered to be not merely disreputable but punishable, at least in his first half century, by sanctions almost as harsh as those for treason and murder. Though to critics of any sensibility it was obvious that this private life was largely the source of imagery and energy in his paintings and unquestionably crucial to his aesthetic development, there were others who — through overwhelming prominence on the Arts Council and our television sets, almost as celebrated as himself for their performances as his interpreters — gave us a Bacon distorted and bowdlerised. In their constructs he could discern little of himself, but in a sense he was content with their dissembling, for it kept him camouflaged and his private life remained largely private to the end. Though he knew them to be in error, his conviction was that in time their interpretations would be recognised as fraudulent, then discarded, letting his paintings at last speak for themselves — “painting is its own language and is not translatable into words”.
I first encountered Bacon’s paintings when I was a schoolboy and am convinced that at the Hanover Gallery, Erica Brausen, his first dealer until 1958, showed paintings that I have not seen since, either in the flesh or published in the many books produced by Johnnies-come-lately; this is true, too ,of an exhibition at the old Beaux-Arts Gallery, where Helen Lessore had his paintings in 1953. It is therefore with great interest that I await the publication of a catalogue raisonné. In London in the Fifties it was impossible not to be aware of Bacon; and after his transference to the Marlborough Gallery and the Tate’s first retrospective of his work in 1962, it seemed to me from then on that no matter where I went in Europe and America I ran into more or less the same travelling Bacon circus — in Chicago and New York, in Turin, Kassel, Mannheim, Zurich — and it became increasingly evident that the formerly slow-thinking and slow-painting painter, in abandoning the considered, deliberate and frequently revised terribilità of the early works, was at risk of becoming slick and habitual, even intellectually easier and emotionally shallower, and that the output of his pictures of ambitious scale was mightily increased, raised to some 20 canvases a year instead of two or three.
It was at this point of sudden but shrewdly engineered success that I first encountered Bacon. I was to know him for 30 years or so. Our acquaintance developed from an enquiry I had to make when a painting said to be by him was delivered to Christie’s and I doubted it. Bacon was not then the sort of painter whose work Christie’s liked to sell, but was nevertheless one whose work I thought they ought to sell — though not if it was a forgery, and I knew that in Milan a forger was producing, even at that early stage, almost plausible pastiches. As Bacon answered neither telephone nor letter, I risked knocking on his door on my way home, was kindly, if briefly, received, and the picture’s authenticity denied. Milanese forgeries again came into play in the later Sixties (a small London dealer was importing them, their quality menacingly improved), and again I had reason to see Bacon, the acquaintance cementing to the point where Bacon felt that he could, for example (since I lived only half a mile away), telephone at crack of dawn and ask me to drive his lover, John Edwards, disablingly hungover, to a family conclave in Long Melford.
For me the most fruitful period of our relationship began when Harrods opened a juice bar in a corner of the food department. Thither went Francis almost every morning and if our paths crossed I joined him for his breakfast. Chipper in mood, no matter how little sleep he’d had, spruce in clothes a shade too bright to be described as dapper, his cosmetic adjustments perfect, he often carried a brown paper bag containing a kohlrabi or other exotic vegetable just bought from the family greengrocer on the corner of Glendower Place; this the girls behind the bar then reduced to a slush that could be added to more common brews. Asked why, he told me that he liked to fart and to this end would drink any foul concoction. And there at the juice bar he held court, with me the only courtier, confiding his contempt of Rothko, De Kooning and Matisse, and of such panjandrums as John Berger, who early expressed his loathing, and David Sylvester and Melvyn Bragg, his notorious apologists.
All this was long before I began to earn my living as a critic and, naïve, as I neither took notes nor made recordings to publish as a precious interview, I recall only disconnected jottings, as it were, with the occasional interjections of let wind. I formed the opinion that we spoke of two honest Bacons, with an unmentionable commercial third Bacon waiting in the wings; the first was the kaleidoscopic, fragmentary Bacon, wit, gossip, gambler, drinker, traveller, willing supporter of such unlikely young painters as Anthony Zych and Michael Leventis, social performer and frivolous lost soul, and, in strong contrast, Bacon the found soul, the melancholy painter, utterly intense, the one a relief from the other, though the onlooker could never quite tell which of these lives he found the more unbearable. The third Bacon was the painter preparing for the next commercial exhibition, the repetitious Bacon, the Bacon who had done it all before, the idea and image stale, the clashing fields of colour too much assured with practice, the drawing and construction occasionally so casual as to deprive the painting of any intended significance. The third Bacon resorted to tricks and cyphers without meaning in the early Eighties to flat arrow-heads in black or white or red that seem to act as jarring indicators (but of what?), and in the late Sixties to splashes of dense white paint strung across the surface. In his Study of George Dyer in a Mirror, a portrait that is as carefully calculated as could be in terms of space and composition, in the suggestion of movement, in the delicate fusion of oils and water-based pastels that give us the immaculate surface, caressed with the fingertips as colour is rubbed into the texture of the canvas, we have the perfect example of this assault, disruptive, assertive, violent, irrelevant, futile, an act of vandalism, an ejaculation in the face. This was in 1968, exactly a decade after telling his close friend Daniel Farson that the only interesting thing about splashes of paint on the canvases of Jackson Pollock was that they had “more vitality than the inanities of academic art”. But this picture is neither academic nor inane; in destroying his unfinishable canvases with slashes of the knife he has my sympathy, but in smirching this fine finished painting he played the deplorable iconoclast.
Bacon had no formal training as a painter and for some time worked as an interior decorator, maker of furniture and, occasionally, as a gentleman’s gentleman. Little is known of his early paintings, rejected by English Surrealists (whom he would otherwise have joined) as not sufficiently surreal, and he destroyed most of them before exhibiting, in 1945, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, one of the disappointingly few works in the permanent collection of Tate Britain. With this, a work as important to Bacon as Les Demoiselles d’Avignon was to Picasso, he emerged as a painter of pessimistic imagination, his images coldly barbaric, in full command of the techniques of oil painting, to assault the nervous system of the orthodox and frivolous art world of post-war Europe. Orthodoxy capitulated and Bacon became the most exhibited of British painters. Successive directors of the Tate described him as Europe’s or Britain’s greatest living painter, though none in America or any other continent was greater.
Bacon continued the line of ancestral European painting, the descent from the grandeurs of the High Italian Renaissance and the bloodstained violence of its German equivalents — two years before his death he went again to Colmar to Grünewald’s Isenheim altarpiece — when all about him the aesthetic nonsense of abstraction and a host of pretentious transitory fashions were the norm. He took the Crucifixion, stripped it of all its Christian implications, and invested it instead with the universal beastliness of man and abattoir, running with blood. He took the mouth, made it obscenely genital and used it exclusively as a feature of violent expression, deafening us with its screams. He took the portrait and, refusing to chart features or delve into character, became the harsh interrogator provoking the betrayal of body language, the man outside the ring of light, the man with the lash and cigarette butt, the man with his finger on the button that sends fierce currents into the electrodes buried in the private recesses of the body and the mind. His prisoners, presidents popes and lovers squirm. All are, in a sense, himself. To women, however, always on a smaller scale, he applied only the torments of his style.
He was capable of an extraordinary fusion of intellectual and painterly devices that are spatial, flat, abstract and narrative, the logic of their complexities never failing even at the end — not for Bacon the empirical incompetence of Picasso’s dotage, the last years as an idiot in the antechamber of death. He used the image of the trap, the cage, the cell, the X-ray field and the heavy fall of light from the single naked bulb to imprison and torment his subjects, to distil and heighten the violence of sexual contiguity in his coupling nudes, and to assault complacent senses with graceless nakedness on the lavatory pan and vomit in the washbasin. His insistence that his pictures be protected with plate glass instead of varnish deliberately added a disturbing layer of illusion when the visitor inevitably found his own reflection between himself and the subject within, seeming to play some part in the sordid drama, spectator become participant.Bacon and his images were nourished by his extensive knowledge of paintings by old masters, Cézanne, Degas and Picasso, by his interest in the subconscious development of images, his enquiry into the quasi-supernatural field of the emanations, auras and energies of his subjects, by his interest in crime, violence and disease, by his collection of the horrible in medical publications. He took the vile, the shudderingly visceral, the sexually and politically obscene, and so lifted them with paint that we can contemplate ferociously profane images of sodomy and torment, cruelty and despair, even the vulgar commonplaces of the lavatory, and perceive in them an inheritance from the great Renaissance themes of religious and temporal power, the classical pantheon of ancient gods, the Christian pantheon of martyrs. Titian, Rembrandt and Velázquez, were they to beg entry to this latest exhibition, might not care for Bacon’s personal pantheon, but I have no doubt that they would recognise kinship in his mastery of paint and the profound pessimism of his images. As an atheist and as an artist for whom money was at least as important as the message of his work, far too often letting loose the second rate (as well as farts), he was the perfect mirror of the spirit of his age.[1]

Rachel Campbell-Johnston. Tate Britain's marvellous retrospective gives us a haunting vision of life stripped to the bone, a sense of macabre desolation.
He is the single greatest artist that Britain has produced in the hundred years that have passed since his birth in 1909. There is no great secret to his success. Francis Bacon is quite simply the most extraordinary, powerful and compelling of painters. And you don't need to study the intricacies of art history or peruse complex philosophies to see why. You just have to look at those shocking, disturbing and sumptuous canvases. This was the man who (to steal a line from Paul Valéry) aimed to evoke sensation without the boredom of its conveyance. His images short-circuit our appreciative processes. They arrive straight through the nervous system and hijack the soul.
Tate Britain's Francis Bacon is a classic show. It moves chronologically - except in a few cases where works have been reshuffled to thematic galleries - through the artist's career, examining its principle phases through a succession of mostly superlative paintings. From the first thickly encrusted canvases of a maverick who, coming late to painting after an abortive career as an interior designer (you can still spot its legacy in the strange tubular steel furniture) at the age of 35, it moves through all the most famous images - the popes screaming in their gilded prisons, the howling baboons, the wrestling copulators, the haunting triptychs, the Furies, the handgrenade faces - to the late but still unflinching meditations on the futility of life.
This is a show that invites us to consider Bacon's place in the postwar pantheon. It coincides with two other shows that offer an illuminating context: Mark Rothko at Tate Modern represents all that Bacon struggled against as, stubbornly resisting the forces of abstraction that were flourishing in America, he sought a place for the figurative in a disillusioned postwar world. Damien Hirst, whose glitzy spectacular is now at Sotheby's, is Bacon's closest successor. At his most powerful he translates it into 3-D.
But 15 years after Bacon's sudden death in Madrid, neither the artist nor the critic David Sylvester, that impassioned purveyor of his reputation to the public, is there to put the works in their usual biographical context. Does the legacy need the legend? Or can it stand alone?
Straightforward correlations between life and art are reductive, but Bacon's work, more than that of any other artist of his generation, has been illuminated by his infamous life story. It was, after all, through his upbringing as the rebellious son of a racehorse trainer in Ireland, the decadence of Paris and Berlin, the drinking and gambling and sadomasochist homosexuality of his “gilded gutter life” in Soho that he discovered his subjects.
The man whom his former friend (their paths later diverged) Lucian Freud described as the wildest and wisest person he had never known wilfully flouted convention, working to make himself as unnatural as he possibly could, espousing a philosophy of futility with an almost religious fervour. “We are born and we die,” he said. “But in between we give this purposeless existence a meaning by our drives.” These were the drives - the lusts, the despairs, the cruelties and the loves - that lent frenzied life to the carcass of a creature that was fundamentally no more than meat.
This was the philosophy that, passed down by Sylvester like an article of faith, became the single most powerful shaping force on our perception of his work.
But now we are asked to reconsider. A few years ago, great bundles of overpainted newspaper clippings and sketches were discovered in Bacon's studio. And yet this was the artist who supposedly (remember that ludicrous biopic) hurled fistfuls of paint, swiped handfuls of rags and pitched buckets of turpentine at his canvases, allowing his creations to grow, or destroy themselves with complete spontaneity. He had always said that he didn't draw; that he didn't want the brain to interfere with “the inevitability of an image”, that accident was essentially at the heart of his vision, that he wanted to trap its vitality with “the foam of the unconscious locked around it”.
As the tattered studio relics are given a focal place in this show, curators ask us to think about the processes of making. Wall texts pick over the paintings in technical detail like beetles pick over the skeletal mechanics of a corpse.
They can't spoil the show. These paintings are too powerful. You only have to look at the portraits that attack and brutalise the human appearance, mashing and twisting it into bruised hues that show us not how repulsive but how beautiful violence can be. You only have to stare into those bright uninflected arenas against which human life struggles like some half-squashed insect. You only have to listen to the primal scream of those popes. A gallery dedicated to images of crucifixions, including three triptychs, is the high point of this show. In Three Studies for a Crucifixion, 1962, man is butchered like an animal on the cross of his life. The raw brutality of pain is overpowering.
Another key gallery, themed around Bacon's late lover George Dyer, is equally evocative. A haunting triptych from 1973 unfurls across the walls telling the story of how, on the night of Bacon's first great triumph (a Parisian retrospective) his lover stayed up in the hotel bedroom and took an overdose. Vomiting into the basin, hunched over the lavatory, he died alone under the stark electric light. With all its macabre desolation it is one of the most haunting images of our era.
This show offers front-row seats in an arena in which atrocities as complex and cruel, as flamboyant and painful, as the bullfights that inspired Bacon take place. Maybe, ironically, there are too many great paintings. Visitors should certainly head for the “crisis” gallery, which presents Bacon in the late Fifties fumbling clumsily amid thick pigments and garish colours for a fresh way forward. Here are some disasters. And you need them. Bacon does not always pull off his impetuous canvases. He destroyed countless works. But surviving mistakes remind us how much of a gambler he was, of how close to the ridiculous, the melodramatic, the downright ludicrous his vision could be.
“I am greedy for...what chance can give me far behind anything I can calculate logically,” he once said. As a young man staying in Monte Carlo, Bacon ended up one night winning the (in those days vast) amount of £1,600 in a casino. He used the money to rent a villa which he stocked with food and wine for friends and ten days later he hadn't the cash to buy his ticket home.
This is the sort of gamble that every Bacon painting takes. Curators will not establish his place in posterity through technical analysis. The works are not illuminated by logic. Photographic images, from pictures of mouth diseases through Muybridge's motion studies, to a golf manual (the arrows with which he peppers his later works supposedly come from it), may, undeniably, have inspired him, but they are not the key to his paintings for at the heart of his work lies an essential mystery. You can't just fill in the blanks.
So far better to ignore those irritating wall texts and pass over the tatty memorabilia as a mere sideshow. Let the paintings do their work.
These are not canonised masterpieces they are desperate gambles. Each time we look at them the dice are rolled again. Maybe for another generation they won't work. But for now watch your reflection glide across the glazed darkness of his surfaces. The blackness has a bottomless depth in the gallery's stark brightness. The colours glow lurid and vivid. As you step across those images of crushed flesh and gristle, of mankind crouched, knotted and crawling, broken and yowling, you are stepping into an arena where human flesh wrestles with its terrible fate. Bacon paints the frenzied reality that lies beneath the veneer of civilisation. His vision is as powerful as that of the great Renaissance Masters except that he reveals savage mystery where others sought redeeming grace.[2]

Fisun Güner. There is a painting in this excellent Tate retrospective that is so uncharacteristic of anything you may be familiar with in the work of Francis Bacon, that encountering it is a jaw-dropping moment.
Study For A Portrait Of Van Gogh VI, 1957 is a Fauvist riot of neon-bright streaks depicting a landscape through which a shadowy black figure roams. Oddly, Tate has used it on much of its exhibition memorabilia. Perhaps they want to entice us with something less familiar, amid so much that is almost too intimately known.
When he painted the piece, Bacon had already achieved some of his greatest works: his famous post-war Crucifixion series and his 1953 Study After Velázquez's Portrait Of Pope Innocent X, a magnificently dissolving and screaming visage suggesting both terror and unspeakable rage. Greater paintings were still to come, though at the expense of Bacon's private life.
Upon the suicide of lover George Dyer in 1971, Bacon embarked upon a series of extraordinarily powerful triptychs showing Dyer's final, desperate moments. A whole room is devoted to them here, and it is the best room by far. But the few seemingly out-of-place – and, especially in later years, duff – paintings are shown here to be worth considering, too: they offer insight into Bacon's constant artistic struggle.
Rather than varnishing his paintings, Bacon preferred to cover them in glass, so that in their darkly reflective surfaces our own image is imprisoned in Bacon's hellish vision of humanity: we are forever forced to be mere helpless witnesses to others' pain.
And just as you find your own image reflected in the paintings, so Bacon's own haunted and fleshily dissolute features are reflected squarely in the centre of one of the glass doors as you turn to leave. This is rather neat. The image is of the small self-portrait situated at the far right corner of one of Bacon's late triptychs. Whether this ghostly encounter is the result of pure chance or an act of genius placement by the curator, I have no idea. Yet, just as we are haunted by Bacon's nihilistic vision, it seems entirely apt that we should find his painted ghost confronting us on our exit.[3]

Louise Jury. You might not be able to pay £43 million to own a Francis Bacon triptych.
But for the next four months, you can visit Tate Britain and see the three-part work that set a world record for Bacon at auction in New York in May.
The private owner is lending the paintings, inspired by Greek mythology, to the first British retrospective for 23 years.
Although the exhibition will go on to the Prado in Madrid and the Metropolitan Museum in New York, London is the only city where the triptych can be seen.
The loan is one of many from private hands for the exhibition of around 70 masterpieces that marks the centenary of Bacon's birth.
Works depicting the crucifixion from key stages in Bacon's career - including his first published work and the first masterpiece of his maturity - are being shown together for the first time.
The exhibition also includes the three different triptychs of his lover George Dyer, including the one produced in the outpouring of grief that immediately followed Dyer's suicide in 1971.
Another highlight is the first fulllength painting of a pope - one of five in the show - which was thought to have been destroyed by the artist but was found rolled up after his death.
All are being exhibited with the first display in Britain of archive material found in his studio that shed new light on his working methods. It includes crumpled photographs of his friends and lovers including Dyer and Peter Lacy, many splashed with paint.
Chris Stephens, the co-curator, said he hoped the exhibition would show Bacon, who died in 1992, was the father of British Pop in depicting everyday subjects and using photography and the key figure of the immediate post-War.
He was not as violent as people imagined, Dr Stephens said. "His underlying philosophy as an atheist was we have a limited time, we're simply the same as other animals with uncontrollable urges, fears and lust. But he wasn't that nihilistic. He was optimistic and a very warm person. There's something very different about seeing his greatest works in the flesh." The exhibition is at the heart of a Bacon bonanza this autumn. The Andipa Gallery is showing Bacon graphics, Christie's is selling a portrait-of Bacon by Lucian Freud for an estimated £5 million to £7 million, and Thames and Hudson is publishing Incunabula by Martin Harrison, documenting Bacon's working methods.[4]

Adrian Searle. A major new retrospective of Francis Bacon's work explores the darker reaches of humanity. What a shame he became a parody of himself, says Adrian Searle
(Image caption: Animal carnality ... Francis Bacon's Three Studies for a Crucifixion, 1962, Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York).
For several reasons, Francis Bacon continues to be extremely popular. His art deals with human suffering, and timeless tropes of the human condition: solitude and isolation, anxiety and ennui, horror and tragedy. Bacon's paintings have sex, violence and death in them - but then so do CSI and Miss Marple.
None of which would count for very much if the artist, almost entirely self-taught, didn't have such a good nose for paint. His paintings look like real art with a capital A, and they have the gold frames to prove it. They have the touch and manner of great, painterly painting, fetishised, and all the more tantalising and unworldly, for being always shown, at the artist's insistence, under glass.
Bacon learned by getting up close to paintings and observing their surfaces. He looked at how paint behaved both as a substance and as a visual surrogate for all the textures there are in the world: for cloth, grass, fur, porcelain, skin. And in Bacon's case, one might say: for chrome, mattress ticking, vomit, meat.
Bacon not only borrowed from, but added to, the vocabulary of painting. He also tainted it, and made certain ways of approaching painting untouchable. Knowing this would, I think, have pleased him. He developed all sorts of interesting shorthand ways of describing things. He had a good sense from the first of what paintings should feel as well as look like, what the variety and drama of their substance and textures should be. So we find congealed masses of dried opaque colour next to the thinnest stains, whose edges are as controlled as a Barnett Newman. We find graphic outlines and contours filled-in with compound, and often contradictory gestures that somehow manage to pull themselves into a figure, even if it is a figure that is pulling itself apart. This sort of dichotomy makes Bacon exciting.
Bacon fakes his boneless anatomies, and has the ingenuity to make us believe them, too. I vacillate between admiration and dismissal. Bacon invariably fell back on something like illustration, for all that he disdained it. He overtly references Velázquez, Van Gogh and Ingres, and steals backgrounds from Mark Rothko and British colour-field paintings of the 1960s, about which he was always dismissive. He was a card. Maybe he thought no one would notice.
Bacon also depicts a modern world - modern furniture, men in suits, dangling lightbulbs, plumbing, fitted carpets and floor-to-ceiling curtains. His early career as an interior decorator informed his art. He had a keen feel for the psychology of a space. All this gave his art a sense of the timely, and lent it a kind of spooky realism. At the same time, Bacon was an almost entirely mannered and theatrical painter. Sometimes I think this is all that's left for painting now anyway. But all his affectations seem at one with Bacon's personality: his stylistic and technical tics are at one with brushing his teeth with Vim and dyeing his hair with shoe polish.
The cast of sexy low-life gangster boyfriends, louche dissolutes, Colony Room renegades and hard-drinking, hard-smoking Soho gorgons who people Bacon's art also keep the paintings alive and vivid for us. These feature animals, captains of industry, dead politicians, Renaissance popes, Mick Jagger and Ian Botham, though the last two have wisely been left out of Tate Britain's retrospective.
Bacon's art also contains an entire repertoire of bruises, wounds, amputations done up with soiled bandages, Nazi armbands and other paraphernalia verging on cliché. There is much blood, and a great deal of alizarin crimson. Unconvincing jets of water struggle to clean all the muck away, though the flying spunk clings on like ectoplasm, unless it's just a spatter of white paint that has fallen off a passing Miró. While we are at it, Bacon is very good at male feet and footwear, at sneakers and Hush Puppies. It is often the details - a doorknob or a wristwatch, teeth or toiletware - that make his paintings plausible and seductive.
The horrors of the 20th century echo through Bacon's sparse interiors. A man swerves in his chair. There is death or a lover at the door. There, I'm at it now. Next I'll be going on about Bacon's Grand Guignol dramas, the encroaching blackness and intimations of mortality, the horror that lurks beneath the skin. Everyone else does. The catalogue to this retrospective has a screaming pope on the cover, unless it's a pope at the dentist or a yawning pope, with Bacon's name picked out in gold.
Protestant Irish-born 99 years ago, Bacon grew to be the most famous British painter of the latter half of the 20th century. Myth, rumour and anecdote about his life have come to dominate discussion of his art, in the same way that his art fed on the litter of medical illustrations, books of nature photography, cricket annuals, newspaper clippings and gay body-building comics that he tramped underfoot in his midden of a studio, now rebuilt in Dublin. All those published conversations with David Sylvester, the hilarious drunken TV interview with Melvyn Bragg, John Maybury's biopic with Derek Jacobi, and the appearance of Bacon paintings in the credits to Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris - all these things add to the intensity of Bacon's painted scream. Aaaaarghhhh.
But it is a hollow cry. Francis Bacon was a pasticheur, a mimic. He ended up imitating himself. It was a kind of method acting. His career took off in the 1940s and with a few exceptions his best work was behind him by the mid-1960s. Walk through this show and feel the disengagement - yours as well as his - setting in. This latest retrospective, which will travel, among other places, to the Prado in Madrid, is as uneven and overstretched as the artist himself was. Bacon died suddenly in Madrid in 1992. Velázquez will kill him there again, when the show comes to town - but then Velázquez kills everyone.
Devoting almost an entire room of Tate Britain to Bacon's 1950s businessmen, with their Giacometti-derived faces looming from the Prussian blue darkness of their shadowy lairs, works very well. They evince the power of well-bred English mafiosi, with the right sort of animal carnality beneath their suits. This room is titled Apprehension. Others are called Zone, Animal, Crisis, and so on.
One room contains nothing but crucifixions, including Bacon's terrific 1933 Crucifixion, a white and grey Picassoid figure, now in Damien Hirst's Murderme collection. The contrast between the Tate's 1944 Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion and a second version of this triptych, painted in 1988 and installed in the vestibule outside the exhibition proper, could not be more painful. The 1988 painting, like almost all late Bacon, is a tired and unnecessary display of hackish technical virtuosity.
But there are paintings I miss here, especially the Museum of Modern Art in New York's Painting, 1946, and the painting Two Figures, 1953, a frank depiction of two men fucking on a bed, often described as "wrestling"; these two works seem to me essential. Much else is not.I have been looking at Bacon for 40 years now, after being an adolescent fan - the grisly aspects of his art appeal to the teenage mind - and I still ask myself if he was the real deal. When asked about the proliferation of fakes of his work, Picasso said that he sometimes faked Picassos, too. Bacon, an authentic fake, whose debt to Picasso was enormous, spent over half his career producing Bacons rather than paintings. "Champagne for my real friends, real pain for my sham friends," he said - more than once.[5]

Peter Bradshaw. I was in Room 6 of the exhibition, which the curators have entitled "Archive", because it attempts to excavate Bacon's working practices, and shows the way he uses found images and pictures ripped from magazines: photographs and stills from movies. Famously, Bacon was inspired by Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin, particularly the nurse with the broken spectacles, which he transformed into his characteristically disquieting 1957 painting Study For The Nurse From The Battleship Potemkin.
The exhibition displays Bacon's copy of Film, a 1946 Pelican publication by movie historian Roger Manwell, which shows stills from the famous Odessa Steps Sequence, including of course the nurse, which so transfixed Bacon. Intriguingly, the exhibition juxtaposes Bacon's copy of this battered paperback with his copy of a book called Phenomena of Materialism: A Contribution to the Investigation of Mediumistic Teleplastics, by Baron Von Shrenk Notzing. This contains blurry images of what appear to be strange contorted apparitions - again, grist to Bacon's mill.
Looking at this, I pondered Bacon's perception that still movie images detached from a motion picture sequence have an uncanny, deathly quality: undead, zombie forms deprived of the "life" that the moving picture gave them, yet not entirely dead - and also ghostly. [...] In Room 10 of the Tate exhibition (entitled "Late") one can see Francis Bacon's last triptych from 1991, the painting that he may well have been working on when I telephoned. The catalogue observes of this piece: "He faced death with a defiant concentration on the exquisiteness of the lived moment."[6]

Tom Lubbock. It used to look like death. Now it looks like life in abundance. And it certainly doesn't look like going away. Francis Bacon's art has survived to his birth centenary, or I guess it will, since that falls next year. So this retrospective at Tate Britain, which opens tomorrow and just squeaks into January, is a centenary show.
But survival itself didn't need proving. Since its appearance on the London art scene in the 1940s, attention has never drifted from Bacon's work. What does need marking is how our view of that work has altered. And it seems to me that its whole place has changed. Bacon no longer stands as an artist among artists, not even a very special artist. He won't be grouped with the School of London, say (Freud, Auerbach, Kitaj), or under Post-war European Figuration (Giacometti, Balthus). No, he now looks simply like an icon of general British culture. He's a familiar. You talk about Bacon as you talk about The Beatles or Monty Python.
When the composer Mark-Anthony Turnage entitled a piece of music Three Screaming Popes – referring to Bacon's well-known series of images by a nickname – you could see what was going on. A "refined" art was drawing strength and vitality from a more popular art. He might as well have called the piece Three Dead Parrots. And if an unaccustomed levity seems to have entered the discussion, that's no mistake either. Bacon has a very British mix of violence, comedy and bloody-minded big-heartedness. And perhaps you hadn't noticed how fond of animals he is.
Bacon's art is not a tunnel vision of horror, expressing the futility of the human condition or the special nightmare of the 20th century. And going to this retrospective, you shouldn't expect to be inching forward in agony through frescoes of the skull (to use a Beckettian phrase). You should expect your money's worth – and you'll get it. The art of Bacon is a variety bill. It's a hall of mirrors, a crooked house, a peep show, a ghost train, a circus, a limbo dance, a stand-up act, a piece of conjuring.
Its theatricality is obvious. Bacon's paintings are scenes, made of distinct stage areas, backdrops, doorways and assorted props and actors. His people are presented full on, usually centre-frame. I don't deny that those people are sometimes in a terrible mess. Everyone, on their first encounter with Bacon's art, gets an impression of car crash, bomb damage, burns, meltdown, slaughterhouse. The red paint and the open mouths, of course, encourage this response. But they shouldn't distract you from the amazing performance that's going on before your very eyes. Bacon is a magician, a quick-change artist. He brings off the most sudden disappearing and reappearing acts, fusions and transformations. The flesh slips, slurps, smears, flares, blurs, fades, evaporates, abruptly dematerialises. Legerdemain: you just can't see how it's done, how it moves from solid to film to spook to gleam to void and back.
All this "damage" is in fact animating. There isn't a corpse anywhere in Bacon's work. His savage treatment is an extension, an exaggeration, of the body's own movements, sensations, expressions. And though his use of oil paint gives him a more liquid language, it wouldn't be wrong to see him in the line of English graphic caricature, and the way it uses distortion, not only to play with likeness, but to inject energy and rub the nerves raw.
Yet, strangely, Bacon's bodies are both sensational and invulnerable. They're in an awful state – and nothing can harm them. Whatever catastrophe befalls their flesh, they're saved by their firm, curvy, bouncy outlines. They seem held within a mould. Often they look like inflatables. Or rather, they seem invulnerable because they are both flexible shape-shifters and sturdy thick-skinned creatures, who can always bounce back. They carry a double fantasy of survival, familiar from animation: total plasticity, total resistance. Another name for this is slapstick.
And so we watch them, on their stages, in action: shouting, racing around, on the loo, sitting chatting, buggering, blowing smoke, throwing up, shaving, turning a street corner, writhing on beds, lolling. Their human shapes are joined by others, and dance with them, elliptical forms that might be areas of spotlight, amoeboid blobs that could be shadows or pools of spilt drink, except the colours and tones are all wrong: they're more like thought bubbles, or ectoplasm.
Sometimes, Bacon sticks in an overt artificial device, a geometrical circle, a road-sign arrow, a lopsided cubical structure framing the action. These perform a focusing, pointing, intensifying function – look at that, feel that. They show how far Bacon is from purism. If the act needs one of these extra winks, nudges or double-takes, he throws it in. If not, not. He never plays with the language of painting for its own sake.
It's a surprisingly large and embracing art. Bacon's one of the few modern artists to do cars – see them racing across in the background like little Monopoly pieces. And there's his menagerie of animals, real and fantastical, from the monster critters in Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, to monkeys, dogs, owls and bulls. And somehow one leaves to this late point the primary fact that Bacon is a sumptuous, delicious colourist. I wouldn't call him a real explorer in colour, but he is a great decorator, a great maker of tastes, and the point is: the tastes are rich and sweet, the harmonies are major key. Again, it's a shamelessness, it's showbiz. He can do it and he does it. He doesn't have any puritan qualms about being gorgeous. He's a vulgar entertainer.[7]

Oginia O’Dell. Amid economic meltdown and on the eve of being sucked into a black hole, it was perhaps unusual to see a London exhibition opening featuring on the BBC's News at Ten. Then again, Tate Britain's centenary retrospective of Francis Bacon, which opens to the public tomorrow, has been widely anticipated as a major art highlight of the year. Irish-born artist Bacon, widely regarded as one of the greatest painters of the 20th century, is known for his giant canvasses spilling out nightmarish visions and contorted bodies in their raw and fleshy glory. The Tate retrospective, arranged broadly chronologically, brings together approximately 70 of the most important paintings from the artist's turbulent life, including his portraits of Pope Innocent X and celebrated triptychs such as Three Studies for a Crucifixion. The exhibition will travel to the Prado in Madrid and the Metropolitan Museum in New York next year.
For Rachel Campbell-Johnston, writing in the Times, Bacon is "quite simply the most extraordinary, powerful and compelling of painters … His images short-circuit our appreciative processes. They arrive straight through the nervous system and hijack the soul." Campbell's high point of the five-star show is the "gallery dedicated to images of crucifixions, including three triptychs … In Three Studies for a Crucifixion, 1962, man is butchered like an animal on the cross of his life. The raw brutality of pain is overpowering."
She is less impressed, however, with a room devoted to archive material found in Bacon's studio. This collection of source material - including preparatory sketches, photographs of close friends, film stills and images of violence, animals, athletes and medical examinations - was revealed posthumously when Bacon's studio was painstakingly dismantled and relocated piece by piece to a Dublin gallery. It now sheds light on some of his working methods and dramatically dispels Bacon's self-mythologies about the spontaneous nature of his own work.
For Campbell-Johnston, it is "better to ignore those irritating wall texts and pass over the tatty memorabilia as a mere sideshow. Let the paintings do their work."
She also highlights a theme that troubles nearly all the critics: Bacon's monumental legacy and fame. There are almost "too many great paintings" on show, she writes. Overfamiliarity is also the subject of Fisun Güner's [...] review in Metro. The retrospective is "excellent" but Güner immediately highlights the "jaw-dropping" incongruity of Bacon's Van Gogh series of paintings made in north Africa in the late 1950s. Notably, Study for a Portrait of Van Gogh VI - a "riot of neon-bright streaks" - is used by the Tate on some of the exhibition memorabilia: "Perhaps they want to entice us with something less familiar, amid so much that is almost too intimately known," writes Güner. The Independent's Tom Lubbock agrees: "[Bacon] now looks simply like an icon of general British culture. He's a familiar. You talk about Bacon as you talk about The Beatles or Monty Python."
Lubbock's review goes on to focus on the artist's shameless, showbiz approach to his art, calling him a "vulgar entertainer" whose art was rooted in shape-shifting theatricality: "The art of Bacon is a variety bill. It's a hall of mirrors, a crooked house, a peep show, a ghost train, a circus, a limbo dance, a stand-up act, a piece of conjuring … Bacon is a magician, a quick-change artist."
The Guardian's art critic, Adrian Searle, admits to being an adolescent fan ("the grisly aspects of Bacon's art appeal to the teenage mind") but after looking at the artist for 40 years, he is still troubled by the "myth, rumour and anecdote about his life [that] have come to dominate discussion of his art". Searle writes: "Bacon fakes his boneless anatomies, and has the ingenuity to make us believe them, too. I vacillate between admiration and dismissal ... Bacon was a pasticheur, a mimic. He ended up imitating himself. This retrospective … is as uneven and overstretched as the artist himself was". He concludes: "I still ask myself if he was the real deal."[8]

Richard Dorment. A beautifully presented show at Tate Britain casts intriguing new light on Francis Bacon's visceral visions of humanity, says Richard Dorment
Francis Bacon is something of an artistic chimera, a now-you-see-it-now-you-don't mixture of British insularity and modernist sophistication.
Born in Ireland in 1909, he belonged to a generation of British artists and draughtsmen loosely identified as the Neo-Romantics. No one denies that he was the most naturally gifted painter to emerge in this country after the war, but from the perspective of international modernism that dominated art during the 20th century his paintings never transcended the time and place in which they were made.
But step back and look again and suddenly you see another Francis Bacon, this one the heir not to any British painter but to Cézanne and to Picasso.
In the nocturnal Study for Nude (1951), the shadowy form in front of the black curtain is just as likely to be a gorilla as a person. Typically, Bacon has taken an idea that is only implied in Picasso's Demoiselles d'Avignon - that women are creatures of the jungle - to its logical conclusion: whether you paint an animal or a human being, it's pretty much the same thing. Here, the broad facets of pink and black paint Bacon uses to create volume are lifted directly from Cézanne, who also shared Bacon's obsession with eternal movement and constant change.
The Bacon retrospective that opens today at Tate Britain is the third to be held at Millbank, but the first since the artist's death in 1992. It is also the first major show in years not to be selected and installed by his formidable champion and interpreter, the late David Sylvester.
As an exhibition organiser, Sylvester was a magician who made any work of art he touched somehow look better than you'd ever seen it look before. Yet even he never convinced me of Bacon's artistic stature, so I was curious to see whether the Tate show would be the beginning of a major critical re-evaluation downwards.
That that has not happened is a tribute to the organisers, Matthew Gale and Chris Stephens. Rigorously chosen for the quality of the pictures, the show is also beautifully displayed to take us through Bacon's career chronologically and thematically. What it does that is new is to focus our attention on the specificity of Bacon's art by making us see how much of it is rooted in visual (as opposed to emotional) experience.
In part this is possible because a vast archive of Bacon's photographs, ephemera and drawings has become available to scholars in recent years. A whole gallery has been given over to showing a fraction of this material, and in some ways it is the armature around which the whole show has been built.
In a 1952 painting showing a mad dog running in circles, for example, Bacon captures in paint the panic and frenzy of the abandoned animal in a way I've never seen done in art before. Panting from thirst, the possibly rabid creature is a moving blur that yet seems to pause for an instant to look directly out of the picture at us, a living embodiment of the futility of existence. But, for all its metaphysical content, before it is anything else the picture is the expression of Bacon's pity and horror for the plight of a specific animal abandoned near a highway in a hot country.
Likewise, the snarling dog that bares its teeth in Man with Dog becomes, in Bacon's hands, an embodiment of evil, a Cerberus who guards the entrance to an underworld represented by the sewer in the street. Once again, however, it is the visceral immediacy of the image that captures and holds our attention, not its symbolic content. The dog is so vividly rendered in silvery blacks and blues that your first thought in front of the picture is that it would bite your arm off if it weren't restrained by its chain.
Later, in a section of Bacon's portraiture, you have the same sense that, far from painting vague evocations of friends and lovers, each person in these pictures is an instantly recognisable personality. Bacon was working from the specific to the general, never losing a connection with his source of inspiration, even if, as was usually the case, that source was a photograph.
Where I lose patience with Bacon is in pictures such as the famous Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944), where three armless and legless torsos howl with rage and despair. His attempt to symbolise the human condition might appeal to an adolescent or a fan of science fiction, but for me the picture fails because I can find no equivalent to its histrionics in my own experience.
Bacon returned to the subject twice. In the version of 1965, he included the figures of two comic-book mobsters standing at a bar to watch the show, and adding utterly unnecessary details such as the Nazi armband worn by the eviscerated and mutilated carcass at the far right.
I just hate art that makes me feel manipulated. What other possible response could we have to these images of blood-smeared Nazi amputees beaten to a pulp than blank revulsion? I'm not saying these things don't happen or that artists shouldn't paint them, but that it is all too easy to get a response by depicting them.
After a sustained period living in the South of France and North Africa, in the Sixties, Bacon begins to drench his pictures in lush, saturated colours. But, for all his chromatic extravagance and technical virtuosity, at precisely this period he also starts to work on a scale that is just too big. Whether it is the female nude on the bed in Lying Figure (1969) or the Triptych - In Memory of George Dyer (1971), wonderful passages of bravura painting are set against large areas of pure colour that read not as space or light but as dead background. American painters from Pollock to Johns were concerned at this date with precisely this problem of how to sustain visual interest over every inch of the canvas surface. Bacon doesn't seem to recognise the problem exists.
Whether this is a good thing depends on your point of view. When I first started to look at Bacon's work in the Sixties, it puzzled me that he couldn't have cared less about the integrity of the picture plane. From the very first pictures, Bacon created the illusion of three-dimensional space by encasing his figures in linear cubes that look like glass vitrines. Symbolically, their function was to render the powerful figures inside them powerless. But formally the device makes the pictures look as old-fashioned as anything by Bouguereau.
But in art nothing ever stands still. Looking at these works in 2008, the way Bacon separates his central images from the flat areas of colour surrounding them feels curiously modern - simply a device he uses to foreground the picture's subject rather than draw attention to its formal properties. Bacon had no interest in contributing to the history of art or its advancement. I faulted him for this, but now that lack of interest looks like the most avant garde thing about his work.I'll never be completely sold on Bacon, but that's my loss and certainly won't stop the crowds from pouring into Tate Britain.[9]

Laura Cumming. The visceral punch of a Francis Bacon painting is beyond dispute. But at Tate Britain's world-class exhibition - which brings together 100 of his works and reconstructs the photo-plastered walls of this London studio - we come face to face with the existential agony at the heart of his anarchic vision.
There are exhibitions - rare, superbly curated - that redefine an artist for a generation. The presentation of 100 works by Francis Bacon at Tate Britain until January, then at the Prado and the Metropolitan Museum in New York, is just such a world-class event. Everyone knows what a Bacon looks like, and since his death in 1992 there have been other shows to remind us, but none has revealed quite as clearly as this one just how mysterious and anarchic his art remains.Take the content of the paintings. What exactly is going on here? Clearly there are the simple auction-house categories: screaming popes and writhing figures, suicides and crucifixions, grand triptychs of agony and violence bought for record sums by Russian oligarchs. And perhaps it seems that violence must therefore be Bacon's theme: bodies splayed and disembowelled, heads twisted and split as in some motorway pile-up. The naked bulb dangles over an amputee (or so it seems). Tobacco bursts from the stubbed fag like the innards of a corpse and the suicide retches his last breath. Even the beds on which lovers grapple are more like mortuary slabs. It is certainly true that Bacon did not paint flowers - although there is in fact an amazingly eerie image of hydrangeas in the opening room - and that his popes and martyrs are consummate horror shows. Ectoplasm, gore, mucus, all sorts of nameless substances are evoked and even imitated by the paint itself, and his stated ambition was to make the pictures look 'as if a human being had passed between them, leaving a trail of the human presence as a snail leaves its slime'.But Bacon was a gregarious Soho bohemian. His people are almost always portraits of lovers and friends. What might look like botched surgery - and like is the operative word since one is always searching for analogies to make sense of his art - is performed on images of drinking companions. Nor could anyone fail to notice just how gorgeous and balletic his pictures are, with their jewel-rich colours and precise choreography; or that his draughtsmanship is so buoyant and deft, even cartoon-like.John Berger long ago compared Bacon to Walt Disney and, before reeling at the supposed heresy, ask yourself whether these paintings don't have a similar sort of fiendish exuberance in their leaping lines and curves. Tom the cat runs smack into the frying pan, his face flattens, but he bounces back. What is shocking is that Bacon's figures stay stuck in their extreme distortions.The truth is that time passes and Bacon no longer comes across as the master of the bloody chamber, of images of torture and degradation the like of which had never before been seen in British art. This is partly because he is practically an old master by now, sanctified in museums the world over, his newness erased by familiarity, his revelations superseded by the pictures of real-life horror that flood into our living rooms. But it is also because what he made of his subject matter now seems so much more important - and this is the true action of the paintings: Bacon's obsessive reinvention and restatement of those isolated figures in their cages and cells.A very early work from 1945, for instance, shows a howling woman bent over naked, a man's overcoat slung across her hindquarters. It is a subject fit for any number of 20th-century artists. But what makes it so devastating here is some sort of nerve-wracking tension between the ravishing orange backdrop and the disembodied mouth with its animal teeth, between the beautifully described tweed of the coat and the outlandish body forms, anticipating David Lynch's Eraserhead by 30 years. And all capped by a funereal umbrella: once seen, never forgotten.It is a tremendous piece of image-coining and there are so many others in this show, the screaming popes immured in their thrones, the stripped child lolloping on all fours, the dog straining at its chain in the drowning darkness. And put like this, the irresistible comparison ought to be Goya. But the stylishness, the sheer operatic charge of these works has nothing to do with the Spaniard, no matter that Bacon studied the old masters from first to last, harking back to them in his heavy gold frames.Often, Bacon's showmanship is deliberately apparent. The way he uses the rough reverse of the canvas, the colour seeping into the hessian like blood - burnt orange, royal purple, midnight blue, crimson - or congealing stickily on the surface. The way he keeps every flailing figure in check with a precise geometry of glass boxes, elliptical arenas, the vertical striations of those dividing curtains at the back that suggest that this is just the ante-chamber to something worse.Look at a particularly camp pope in a monocle - one revelation here is of Bacon's humour - wedged to the waist in his chair like Winnie in Happy Days (Bacon, incidentally, precedes Beckett) and you see that what appears to be an accidental black spatter has been primped up with red so that it looks as if the painting itself spurts blood. But it is what Bacon does to the figures themselves that resists analysis. The curators of this show have reconstructed the photo-plastered walls of his London studio, about which so much nonsense has been written as if Bacon simply transcribed Eisenstein, Eadweard Muybridge, photos of Nuremberg, textbook shots of mouth diseases or patients positioned for X-rays. This proves crucial. It shows that Bacon never paints an exact moment of violence, nor its aftermath, nor anything captured in a photograph; he invents some split-second transition - his characteristic stop-start mutation.And where do those wildly aberrant faces come from? They might recall Henry Tonks's studies of First World War soldiers, but Bacon is not recording actual injuries; and this is not just some new variant of modernism either. The eyes want to straighten them out, these heads, put them back together. But the mind cannot.One of the greatest works here is also the smallest, a portrait of Bacon's lover George Dyer. A nearby photograph shows the same handsome profile, the curved nose echoed by the gleaming black quiff. But the painting, with its swerves and swipes, despite being instantly recognisable, is another thing altogether. Photo-real yet caricatural, molten but graphic, muscular and yet diaphanous, it moves seamlessly through its transitions. Whatever Dyer once was before his suicide, he has become a force-field of deathless matter. No stories, only images: that was Bacon's claim for his art and even though the late works seem to imply a narrative with their props and locations - the hotel, the telephone, a door flung open, a man hunched over a mirror - they never resolve into simple conclusions. His images are indelible, irrational and beyond summary, and his modest ambition for them - that they should be as vividly realised as possible - has surely turned out to be true.[10]

Rebecca Daniels. Despite claims that the Tate’s Francis Bacon exhibition is the biggest retrospective of him ever staged, it is, in fact, substantially smaller than the gallery’s 1985 show. [...] [T]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) 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 exhibition’s 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) is unusual in Bacon’s oeuvre as it appears to illustrate episodes in Dyer’s life, while Triptych, May-June 1973 (1973; private collection, Switzerland) recalls events of his lonely suicide by graphically showing him vomiting in a sink in one panel and in another slumped on a toilet (where he was found dead). Despite Bacon’s dislike of narrative interpretation, these triptychs seem to encourage a biographical reading, an approach that the curators have invited by collecting these works under the heading ‘Memorial’.
While it is tempting to analyse these works solely as a sentimental and nostalgic pining for lost love – and there is undoubtedly an element of that poignantly expressed in Bacon’s diary on 24 October 1972 (‘George died a year today’) – it must also be remembered that shortly before his death Dyer had planted drugs in Bacon’s studio, leading to Bacon’s arrest and trial only four months before Dyer’s suicide. It is perhaps because such complex personal emotions underlie these works that Bacon, unusually, has been unable to frustrate a narrative reading of his works. Bacon’s penchant for painting in themes is well represented and there is a good selection of popes, businessmen, crouching figures and animal paintings.

The decision to hang the paintings at an extremely low level (often just above the skirting boards) enables the viewer to examine the variations in Bacon’s application of paint. Nowhere is this more marked than in Head II (1949; Ulster Museum, Belfast), 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 [...]. I left the exhibition feeling, as one should, visually exhausted but exhilarated.[11]

1. Brian Sewell, "The Francis Bacon I Knew," Evening Standard Online, 5.9.2008, http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/arts/review-23551317-the-francis-bacon-i-knew.do
2. Rachel Campbell-Johnston, "Francis Bacon at Tate Britain," Times Online, 9.9.2008, http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/visual_arts/article4706909.ece
3. Fisun Güner, “A Bad Dream come[s] True with Francis Bacon,” Metro.co.uk, 9.9.2008, http://www.metro.co.uk/metrolife/article.html?A_bad_dream_come_true_with_Francis_Bacon&in_article_id=301028&in_page_id=263
4. Louise Jury, "Francis Bacon: Triptych at the Tate," Evening Standard Online, 9.9.2008, http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23552706-francis-bacon-triptych-at-the-tate.do
5. Adrian Searle, "Painted Screams," Guardian Online, 9.9.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2008/sep/09/bacon.art
6. Peter Bradshaw, "My Encounter with Francis Bacon," Guardian Online Film Blog, 10.9.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/filmblog/2008/sep/10/bacon
7. Tom Lubbock, "All hail a Vulgar Entertainer: Francis Bacon Retrospective," Independent Online, 10.9.2008, http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features/all-hail-a-vulgar-entertainer-francis-bacon-retrospective-924347.html
8. Oginia O’Dell, "Reviews Roundup: Francis Bacon at Tate Britain," Guardian Online, 10.9.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2008/sep/10/bacon.tate.reviews
9. Richard Dorment, "Francis Bacon at Tate Britain: Bacon's Merciless Slices of Life," Telegraph Online,11.9.2008, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/3560223/Francis-Bacon-at-Tate-Britain-Bacons-merciless-slices-of-life.html
10. Laura Cummings, "A Wayward Genius and his Chambers of Horror," The Observer (Guardian Online), 14.9.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2008/sep/14/bacon.art
11. Rebecca Daniels, "Bacon in Close Focus" (21.10.2008), Apollo Magazine, November 2008, http://www.apollo-magazine.com/reviews/2535466/part_1/bacon-in-close-focus.thtml

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...