Go See: Major Francis Bacon Retrospective, Tate Britain, through January 4, 2008

September 21st, 2008

Crucifixion (1933) by Francis Bacon, on display at the Tate Britain
Crucifixion (1933) by Francis Bacon, via the Tate Britain

In celebration of the centenary of the artist’s birth, the Tate Britain has put together a Francis Bacon retrospective encompassing 71 paintings covering the most important creative periods of the noted 20th century artist. The retrospective is the first in Britain since 1985, before the artist passed away in 1992. Bacon’s work forces the viewer to confront very disturbing, hyperfigurative images of mortality, lust, fear and violence, often incorporated gory, mangled or otherwise distorted depictions of human and animal anatomy. Bacon’s ‘Triptych’ (1976) recently set a record this May when Roman Abramovich (Russian billionaire and owner of Chelsea FC) bought it for $86.2 million at a Sotheby’s auction in New York, earning him the distinction of being the most expensive postwar artist.

Major Celebration Heralding Francis Bacon’s Centenary Opens at Tate Gallery in London [ArtDaily]
Francis Bacon: ‘The man’s a bloody genius’ [Guardian]
Video Commentary from Chris Stephens, co-curator of the exhibition [Tate Britain]
Francis Bacon at the Tate Britain [Times Online]
Bacon’s Darkness in a New Light [Wall Street Journal]
Reviews roundup: Francis Bacon at Tate Britain [Guardian]
London set for Bacon centenary exhibition [AFP]
Bacon Show Has $6 Billion Art, Horror, Corpses [Bloomberg]
Francis Bacon claims his place at the top of the market [Art Newspaper]
Francis Bacon: touching the void, video review of the exhibit [Times Online]

Head VI (1949) by Francis Bacon, on display at the Tate Britain
‘Head VI’
(1949) by Francis Bacon, via the Tate Britain

Study of George Dyer in a Mirror (1963) by Francis Bacon
Study of George Dyer in a Mirror (1963) by Francis Bacon, via the Tate Britain

Among the many muses and influences that informed and inspired Bacon’s work, George Dyer was arguably the most important. In addition to serving as the model for many of his paintings, Dyer was also Bacon’s erstwhile romantic partner.  Bacon often portrayed him with a mixture of sympathy and disdain bordering on contempt, and many of his paintings with Dyer as the subject reinforce a recurring theme in Bacon’s work: man as a pathetic animal, nothing more than meat. Dyer is infamous for taking his own life on the eve of a Bacon retrospective in Paris in 1970.  His image seems to haunt Bacon, who compelled by perhaps guilt composes several pieces in his memory.

triptych-in-memory-of-george-dyer-1971-francis-baconTriptych – In Memory of Gregory Dyer (1971) by Francis Bacon, via Tate Britain

Three Studies for a Crucifixion (1962) by Francis Bacon
‘Three Studies for a Crucifixion’
(1962) by Francis Bacon, via Tate Britain

Another theme that appeared very often in Bacon’s work was the Crucifix, not in a religious context, but as an example of man’s cruelty and bloodlust.  Mangled, disfigured corpses replace more typical representations of the human body, harking back once again to the idea that people are really little more than carcasses.

Crucifixion (1965) by Francis Bacon‘Crucifixion’ (1965) by Francis Bacon, via the Tate Britain