Francis BaconThree-Portraits Posthumous of George Dyer Self-portrait Portrait of Lucien Freud

The influence of literature on his painting


The portrait is the most effective artistic mean to investigate the human soul, and Western culture has been exploring it since the Renaissance. Everything started with Leonardo da Vinci’s “A Treatise on Painting”, in which the genius wrote: “Represent your figures in such action as may be fitted to express what purpose is in the mind of each; otherwise your art will not be admirable”. Francis Bacon’s portraits are inaccurate, vague, deformed. They have names and titles, yet they seem to represent everything except the subject they actually portray. Is it possible that his art is not “admirable”? The last large solo show of Bacon’s work in France took place in 1996. More than 20 years later, a new exhibition that is called “Bacon en toutes lettres” is running at Centre Pompidou until January 20, 2020. The exhibition retraces two decades of the artist’s career, from 1971 to 1992 (the year of his death), through 60 paintings, including 12 triptychs in which his style becomes more simple, intense, and dominated by pink, yellow, orange and ochre hues. The exhibition is curated by Didie Ottinger and explores the influences of literature on Francis Bacon’s painting, focusing on the authors that were featured in the artist’s private library: Aeschylus, Friedrich Nietzsche, T. S. Eliot, Michel Leiris, Joseph Conrad and Georges Bataille.


Bacon shared their poetic universe, their spiritual affinity and their distrust of all values, from morality and idealism to beauty. In fact, the artist rejected all forms of narrative exegesis; for him, literature is a powerful imagination trigger that provides a general atmosphere and immediate images. Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus (1981) proves the impact of Greek tragedy on Bacon’s art, whereas T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land inspired fragmentary collage works such as 1967 Triptych Inspired by T.S. Eliot’s Poem “Sweeney Agonistes”. In 1990, Bacon published an entirely illustrated edition of Michel Leiris’ Miroir de la Tauromachie. On display there are also a number of portraits of George Dyer, the artist’s companion, and three triptychs Bacon made on the occasion of his death: In Memory of George Dyer (1971), Triptych-August (1972) and Triptych, May-June (1973), in which a vague and subtle portrait of the subject glides on the canvas. The represented face is a superimposition of the faces of billions of insecure, weak and fearful people, including ourselves. Literature has predicted this a long time ago: “I is another”, as Arthur Rimbaud said a century ago. Francis Bacon’s art speaks of the soul of every man.


Francis Bacon
Bacon en toutes lettres
Centre Pompidou
Curated by
Didier Ottinger
Until 20/01/2020

Fino al 20/01/2020Paolo Magri


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