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Newsletter - September 2014

 

Annual General Meeting and lecture

Our October lecture, which follows our Annual General Meeting, is not as printed on the card, as unfortunately Daniel Evens is no longer available. However we have booked a very good lecturer, Caroline Brooke, to talk to us on “Agony or Ecstasy? Michelangelo the Artist and Michelangelo the Man”.

Caroline lectures regularly at the National Gallery, Courtauld Institute and writes for the Burlingon Magazine; she is an Associate Lecturer at Birkbeck School of Art History. The evening starts at 6 p.m. with a glass of wine.

 

Francis Bacon, our September Lecture

Linda Smith is such a good speaker that even those who are not persuaded to ‘like’ the art of Francis Bacon were interested and entertained by her lecture. Bacon – around the 1980s – was considered the greatest living artist, and Linda told us a good deal about his life and work. He was born in 1909 in Dublin to an English family and had a patchy education. He was in London by the 1920s, expelled from both family and school.

His first success as an artist (he was self-taught and never attended art college) was in 1944 when he painted ‘Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion’, and later said “This is where I began”. The work is a triptych, a form he often used, and the figures are screaming in pain.

Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion
Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion

Bacon was an atheist and believed that there was no god or redemption; the darkest heart of the human condition is symbolised by the crucifixion. His figures are often hideous creatures, like the Greek furies, who pursue people who have committed crimes. They are often trapped in ‘space frames’ like a box, the screaming mouth is found repeatedly. He was influenced by visual images from the film ‘Battleship Potemkin’, where the scream of a victim is shown, as well as the scream of the perpetrator, such as Goebbels – a picture of whom he had in his studio.

Picasso was also a source of influence; his ‘Figures at the Sea Shore’ seems to show a violent sexual act, and Bacon himself was a flamboyant sadomasochistic homosexual.

Sides of meat feature in his work, which were a classic motif – and emphasise his atheistic belief that all we have is our physical life. In 1948 he produced six paintings in a series titled ‘Head I to VI’.

Bacon painted on the wrong side of the canvas never priming it, and achieved a more assured handling of the paint. He liked his paintings to be glazed so that people could see themselves reflected in the glass and bring them into the picture.

Silk weaving depicted in a mural

He was obsessed with the portrait by Velazquez of Pope Innocente X (1650) and made a series of paintings of screaming popes seated in a similar pose.

Bacon made sure he manipulated his own public image in his personal life – in the 50s and 60s he indulged in ‘play acting’ in public. His later works refer to his early life; to his loathing and contempt for his father, although he was often drawn to father figures in older men. In his social life he was a legendary drinker and gambler and frequented The Colony Room.

Francis Bacon and George Dyer
Francis Bacon and George Dyer

He made a long-term relationship with George Dyer, probably a petty thief, who represented the ‘rough trade’ that attracted Bacon, and he painted many portraits of him. The relationship was tempestuous and lasted about 7 years, until Dyer’s death.

After this he produced ‘The Black Triptych’, a triple portrait of Dyer seemingly disappearing into a black void; surrealism is a living presence in Bacon’s work. This work sold a few years ago for $86 million. In it he pushes the human figure as far as he could.

His later companion was John Edwards; not a lover, but a friend who looked out for him. When Bacon died in 1992 he left his estate to John, who spent this bequest – which was a considerable sum.

Bacon wanted to be measured against the old masters, and Linda left it to us to decide whether he achieved this. She ended the lecture with a clip of Bacon in garrulous conversation, pouring himself a drink, from the television programme The South Bank Show of 1985. A fitting closing.

Francis Bacon’s studio in 1985
Francis Bacon’s studio in 1985