Did you know that...?
If you visit the exhibition, you can enjoy the didactic space devoted to the extraordinary figure of Francis Bacon (b. 1909, Dublin; d. 1992, Madrid) and a virtual recreation of artist’s studio. The importance of his oeuvre is revealed by the artist’s biography, wall texts which inquire into key concepts in his output, and an interview which is screened in the niche in this corridor. In gallery 201, his studio in 7 Reece Mews (London) is described and recreated for the first time through virtual reality.
A self-taught artist
Francis Bacon approached the creative process of painting somewhat unconventionally: only rarely did he make preparatory drawings, and he always painted directly onto the bare canvas. He never received any formal training, and his studios were practically the only places where he worked.
Some of Bacon’s main sources of inspiration were the works of certain classical and modern artists. His closest milieu, namely his partners, friends, and family members, also played a prominent role in his output, not only as models for his works but also by providing him with personal and financial support. For example, his cousin Diana Watson was one of the first to buy his work. When he moved to London in 1929, he met Eric Allden, his first partner and a collector of his work. Later, in 1930, he befriended Australian artist Roy de Maistre, who soon became his mentor as well.
The masterful art of Velázquez and Picasso proved to be among Bacon’s most important influences, and in fact he decided to become an artist after seeing an exhibition of Picasso’s work at the Paul Rosenberg Gallery in Paris in 1927. He also painted an extensive number of works with the image of a screaming Pope [see ‘Study after Velazquez’ (1950) in gallery 207] based on Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1651). Bacon admired Velázquez so much that he chose not to see the original painting by the Spanish master on a visit he took to Rome in the 1950s for fear of the possibility that his own work could not live up to it.
Bacon’s painting style is halfway between abstraction and representation. Surrealism was an important springboard for and influence on his earliest works. Later, when Bacon began to capture the movement of the figures on canvas, Eadweard Muybridge’s late 19th–century photographs of the human body in motion became an essential point of reference. The imprint of the Old Masters—such as Michelangelo’s drawings and the “grandeur of forms” that characterizes his human figures—was evident throughout his entire career.
If we carefully analyze the visceral details and physical distortions of Bacon’s figures, we can appreciate both his profound knowledge of the procedures of abstract painting and the emotional power of the way he laid color on the canvas.
A book on X-rays entitled Positioning in Radiography occupied pride of place in Bacon’s personal library. These images focusing on the position of bodies when taking X-rays, plus his memory of the bodies of the people he had known and the representations by Michelangelo and Muybridge, all exerted an enormous influence on his works depicting human figures
Bacon said that his parents had banished him from his home in 1926 when they found him wearing his mother’s clothing. After this episode, he moved to other cities where he was able to express himself more freely, thanks to the money his mother forwarded to him. First he went to London, after that to Berlin, and later to Paris. The countless images of men wrestling, cut-outs from men’s fitness magazines, and the advertisements that papered his studio and became part of his paintings give us an idea of the visual forms of homosexuality in the 1950s. Even though sexual relations between men were partly decriminalized in the U.K. in 1967, Bacon continued to be associated with the “illicit” for many years. One of the first works in which the artist implicitly showed two sexualized male figures is Man Kneeling in Grass (1952), shown in gallery 205.
In a conversation with his friend, art critic David Sylvester, Bacon mentioned that the numerous depictions of mouths in his oeuvre could be interpreted as sexual references, although they were originally inspired by the color plates from a secondhand book on mouth illnesses that he had bought in Paris.
Life and Death
One of the first subjects that Bacon painted was the pieces of meat that the artist saw displayed in butcher shops, which ended up becoming a recurring image in his oeuvre [see Three Studies for a Crucifixion (1962) in gallery 205]. To Bacon, meat represented the cycle of life and death. The depictions of flesh, dismembered bodies, and perhaps the open mouths that appear in his paintings reflect the suffering and devastation wrought by World War II.
Likewise, the profound mark left on Bacon by the suicide of his companion, George Dyer—which happened just a few days before the opening of his major retrospective in Paris’s Grand Palais in 1971—is palpable in his subsequent works, which are often haunted by the spectral figure of his partner. In his paintings from the early 1990s, the presence of flesh might also allude to Bacon’s own illness and imminent death.
In a letter from 1992, Bacon mentioned Damien Hirst, a young artist whose works were in the Saatchi Collection (London) at the time and who had used a cow’s head in one of his works. The artist may have felt some kind of affinity when he discovered the iconographic bond between him and Hirst.
The Studio at 7 Reece Mews
“For some reason the moment I saw this place I knew that I could work here. I am very influenced by places, by the atmosphere of a room. […] And I just knew from the very moment that I came here that I would be able to work here.”
After Francis Bacon died in 1992, the studio he had occupied for more than 30 years, located at 7 Reece Mews, South Kensington, London, was left untouched until 1998, when the artist’s heir, John Edwards, and the executor of his Estate, Brian Clarke, bequeathed its entire contents to the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, the city where Bacon was born. It was opened in 2001.
The studio was faithfully recreated in its new location and remains exactly as it was when Bacon died. It houses hundreds of photographs, papers, books, painting materials and tools, works by Bacon, and reproductions of works by other artists such as Picasso and Velázquez. In his studio, Bacon accumulated the most disparate cultural artifacts and objects, which were found amidst clothing, such as the socks he used to paint. All of it was scattered about in what the artist called an "ordered chaos," an expression which he used to describe not only his studio but also his approach to painting.
Bacon had other studios throughout his life, but he never felt as comfortable as he did at the one at 7 Reece Mews.
“I can only paint here in my studio. I’ve had plenty of others, but I’ve been here for nearly 30 years now and it suits me very well. It’s much easier for me to paint in a place like this which is a mess. I don’t know why but it helps me.”
If you are visiting the exhibition’s educational space, you can enjoy a virtual recreation of artist Francis Bacon’s studio (b. 1909, Dublin; d. 1992, Madrid) located at 7 Reece Mews (London) in gallery 201.
Don’t miss out!
Audio guide and adapted guides
The audio guides, available at the Museum entrance, provide further information on the works in each exhibition.
Ask at the Information desk for audio/video guides for people with cognitive, hearing and/or visual impairments.
This exhibition, organized in collaboration with the Grimaldi Forum Monaco, shows the dialogue created between the works of Francis Bacon and the great artists who inspired him.
You can start your visit in galleries 205, 206, 207, and 209, and then continue in 203, 202 and 204, ending in 208.
We hope you enjoy your visit!
A Conversation: Francis Bacon
Wednesday, September 28, 6:30 pm
Martin Harrison, Curator of the exhibition, and Lucía Agirre, Curator of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, will discuss the oeuvre of Francis Bacon following the theme of the exhibition and the recent publication of the artist’s catalogue raisonné.
Tickets: Free. Available at the Admissions desk and on the website
Lecture: Francis Bacon and his studio at 7 Reece Mews
Wednesday, October 5, 6:30 pm
Dr. Barbara Dawson will present a lecture examining Francis Bacon’s studio, which has been reconstructed down to the last detail at The Hugh Lane, the Dublin gallery where she works as director.
Tickets: Free. Available at the Admissions desk and on the website
Screening All About Bacon: From His Life to His Work
November 3 to 6, 6:30 pm
The Museum auditorium will show a selection of fiction films and documentaries related to the artist’s work,either because they reflect his life and life in London during the second half of the 20th century, or because they contain direct references to some of his works.
Tickets: €4, €2 members. Available at the Admissions desk and on the website starting on October 10.