Held in a private collection, the two-metre high canvas only became known in 2016. In January next year it is to be exhibited for the first time in the UK in a major Royal Academy exhibition charting the development of the artist’s work — notably the human figure — through his fascination with animals.
Born in Dublin in 1909, Bacon would become one of the most important and darkest artists of the twentieth century. He is perhaps best known today for his visceral, raw imagery of psychological and physical brutality and his volatile friendship with Lucian Freud.
Interestingly, Bacon saw humans as animals like any other. It was a truth he explored in his work throughout his career, often conflating the boundaries between human and animal existence. ‘We are potential carcasses,’ he once famously said. ‘If I go into a butcher’s shop I always think it’s surprising that I wasn’t there instead of the animal.’
Co-curated by Bacon’s great friend, the writer Michael Peppiatt, this exhibition of around 45 works includes everything from his early biomorphic creatures of the 1930s and 40s and portraits of his love and muse George Dyer, to later depictions of the ‘Furies’ — ghostly apparitions, neither man nor beast — derived from Greek tragedy. In keeping with its broadly chronological hang, the exhibition will conclude with the recently rediscovered Study of a Bull.
Image credit: 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
Among the standout exhibits is a powerful trio of paintings of the corrida (bullfights), which will be displayed together in this exhibition for the first time. All executed in 1969, they highlight what the gallery statement describes as ‘the fine lines between flesh and meat, violence and eroticism, life and death.’
Other notable works include a portrait of George Dyer crouching from 1966 and Head I (1949), an unsettling portrait of a head-cum-beast with fangs. In this painting — one of a series of six Heads produced for his first solo exhibition in 1949 — Bacon calls not only identity but also species into question.
With its laser focus, this major new show looks set to offer an unsettling but mesmeric insight into the mind of a 20th-century artistic genius.
|What||Francis Bacon: Man and Beast, Royal Academy|
|Where||Royal Academy, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Green Park (underground)|
30 Jan 21 – 18 Apr 21, 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
|Website||Click here for more information and to book|