Francis Bacon is indeed one of the most celebrated painters of the post-war period in the UK and perhaps the leading art figure of the twentieth century. Throughout his seven-decade-long career, he developed a unique and, to some, disturbing pictorial language that was and still is analyzed for its complex network of references, motifs, and lasting persuasions.
Revered for his outstanding, yet chiseling portraits of mostly featuring hybrid bodies of creatures or entities culled from the depth of his imagination, Bacon paid close attention to the exploration of animals to ultimately comment upon the human beastiality.
To examine this particular fascination that seems to have shaped Bacon's practice, the Royal Academy of Arts decided to organize the exhibition Francis Bacon: Man and Beast, opening in early 2021.
The upcoming exhibition tends to show that Francis Bacon generally compared human nature to the animal one. This fascination, or rather an obsession, can be traced across his career, starting from the biomorphic creatures depicted in his earliest works, to the distorted nudes that take a central place in the later phase of his career. The artist was dazzled by the movement of animals while observing them in a zoo, during his trips to South Africa and forming an impressive collection of wildlife books.
The exhibition in London will put on display a total of forty-five paintings spanning Bacon's career - from his earliest works made in the 1930s and 40s to the final painting Study of a Bull he made in 1991 - to be exhibited for the first time in the UK. Three bullfights paintings made by the artist in 1969 will also be on view together for the first time.
A series of paintings featuring biomorphic creatures (inspired by Furies, ghostly apparitions from Greek tragedy, particularly The Oresteia by Aeschylus) made between 1944 and 1946 will open the show, and this section will also include several of Bacon’s crucifixions.
The following section will focus more on portraiture and Bacon’s experimentation with the boundaries between human and non-human animals. The famous series Heads, three paintings out of six, will stand at the core of the section along with two iconic paintings made after Portrait of Pope Innocent X by Diego Velázquez.
The next section will overview the landscape as a motif also present in Bacon’s work as a setting where human and animal figures unite. The movement of human and animal bodies will be the subject of the next section, and the artist’s examination of the photographic work of Eadweard Muybridge, while the following one will be focused on Bacon’s reinterpretation of traditional representations of the nude.
Another section will include paintings featuring the artist’s lover and muse, George Dyer, whom he met in 1963, and had a passionate and violent relationship. The exhibition will end with the mentioned Study of a Bull, 1991; the last painting Bacon ever made that remained undiscovered until 2016.
According to all the mentioned sections, the upcoming exhibition will provide a fresh interpretation of Bacon’s innovative and quite radical painterly style but also of his persuasions, and the everyday struggle he had to face in his professional and private life as a queer man.
Francis Bacon: Man and Beast will be on display at the Royal Academy of Arts in London from 30 January until 18 April 2021.
Featured image: Left: Francis Bacon - Portrait of George Dyer Crouching, 1966. Oil on canvas. Private collection © The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved, DACS/Artimage 2020. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd / Right: Francis Bacon - Study for Bullfight No. 1, 1969. Oil on canvas, 197.7 x 147.8 cm. Private collection, Switzerland © The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved, DACS/Artimage 2020. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd. All images courtesy the Royal Academy of Arts.