Francis Bacon's work was first shown at the Gemeentemuseum during the 1964 New Realists exhibition. It was controversial, partly because it was deliberately figurative at a period dominated by abstract art. The exhibition led the Gemeentemuseum to purchase Paralytic Child (1961) with help from the Vereniging Rembrandt. Now the Gemeentemuseum is putting on a retrospective including all the most important works of this most fascinating of all post-war painters.
The paintings on view will include the famous series of Popes, his works based on Van Gogh, portraits of his friend and companion George Dyer and a large number of monumental triptychs, including one - Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion ('44) - which hasn't previously been lent out by the Tate Gallery.
Francis Bacon (Dublin 1909 - Madrid 1992) produced paintings which are neither abstract nor purely figurative. Interested as he was in the ability of bodily movement to express underlying emotions, he based his approach on film and photography. The work of Muybridge was a favourite source, but others included x-rays, portraits and self-portraits, photographs of dictators and books about diseases of the mouth. When painting portraits, he liked to have photographs of wild animals to hand, because one image can suggest many ideas for the other. Because of its rawness, Bacon's work is sometimes seen as violent. However, violence was neither his starting-point nor his goal. He wanted to reveal the deformed nature of the individual. By turning people inside out and literally getting under their skin, he tried to penetrate their individual personalities, to reveal their weaknesses and to make their mortality not just visible but actually tangible. He deliberately chose to do this in a hard-hitting, confrontational way in order to achieve an intensity which would shock the viewer and touch a nerve. His recurrent themes are the vulnerability of the human body, mental laceration and incarceration.
Bacon decided to become a painter at the age of eighteen, after visiting a Picasso exhibition in Paris. At first, his shows attracted few buyers and unanimously poor reviews. In disgust, he destroyed almost everything he made in this early period. His breakthrough came only in 1944, when he exhibited the first of his triptychs in London. By the time the MoMa bought one of his works in 1949 his star was already rising and his show the following year was a sell-out. Thereafter, his career really took off and the prices paid for his work sky-rocketed. His notoriously turbulent life alternated between 'the gutter and the Ritz' and was filled with hard drinking, heavy gambling and promiscuous homosexuality. At one point, his studio served as an illegal gambling den. He was engaged in a perpetual search for sensation, a constant high with no subsequent low.
Bacon's London studio in Reece Mews has recently been moved to Dublin by the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, leading to the discovery of a wealth of valuable documentary material. The photographs, background documents and drawings found there will now be exhibited for the first time. They provide an insight into the creative process underlying Bacon's paintings. Also two paintings previously thought lost and these will be displayed here for the first time ever. Particularly notable features of the exhibition will include items on loan from the Francis Bacon Estate, the Tate Gallery and the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin. The owners have announced that these works will not be loaned out again for some time because of their fragile state and high insurance value.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a full-colour 144-page catalogue published by Waanders at a price of NLG 39.95 (hardcover NLG 55).
Study for Portrait of Van Gogh IV, 1957