This is an absolutely compelling exhibition and highly recommended to anyone who can get themselves to the Sainsbury Centre before 26 July. It gave me insight into the work of Francis Bacon (1909-1992) that I simply didn’t have before, despite having seen quite a lot of his paintings. Previously I hadn’t managed to get beyond the menacing weirdness of them.
The exhibition brings over 100 major works, by Bacon together with old and modern masters who had influenced him including Velázquez, Rembrandt, Titian, Michelangelo, Rodin, Van Gogh, Picasso and Matisse. Many of these works are on loan from the Hermitage in St Petersburg and have never been seen in the UK before. It’s truly intriguing to see how the work of so many great artists, many of whom practised their art centuries before Bacon, had such a visible influence on his essentially abstract paintings.
These influential works are displayed in juxtaposition to the relevant works of Bacon. It’s an incredibly clever bit of curating and an inspired way to make Bacon’s work more accessible because, let’s face it, that many paintings by Francis Bacon could be a bit hard to digest at one go.
Some examples of this masterly curating include:
- The earliest work by Bacon in the show, his Crucifixion (1933) displayed opposite Alonso Cano’s Crucifixion (1601).
- A plaster cast of Michaelangelo’s Crouching Boy together with Bacon’s Two Figures in a Room (1959) and Figures in a Landscape (1956) which feature a similar pose.
Bacon’s provocative series of 53 pope portraits are based on Diego Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1650) which Bacon said was “one of the greatest portraits ever made”. Make what you will of Bacon’s interpretations… they are certainly provocative and it’s no surprise that a homosexual raised a Protestant in Catholic Ireland might have some complex feelings about religion.
For me the works on loan from the Hermitage are the true stars of the show with two personal highlights:
Rembrandt’s Portrait of an Old Man. This leapt out of the candlelight in which it was probably painted and made me feel I was in the presence of a living person. Rembrandt’s style was thought to be quite rough and crude at the time when he painted. I would say it is highly realistic and speaks volumes, in this painting, about the travails of old age.
And my second favourite is Van Gogh’s Farms Near Auvers (1890) because of the marks that are so uniquely his and the soft sense of movement and naturalness of it. How wonderful to have the opportunity to see this gentle, bucolic scene through his eyes.
Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts | http://scva.ac.uk/art-and-artists/exhibitions/francis-bacon-and-the-masters
BBC Your Paintings
The official website of the estate of Francis Bacon | www.francis-bacon.com