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The Grotesque Beauty of Francis Bacon

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Irish painter Francis Bacon has, to put it mildly, a certain amount of esteem laid upon him. His works are highly regarded and for a short while he held the record for having the most expensive piece of art sold, the “Three Studies of Lucian Freud”, which went for almost $142.5 million in 2013. He is renowned, lauded, and hailed as one of the greatest painters of the 20th century. And his work was dark, grim, and often troubling to look at.

Even Jack Nicholson’s Joker in the 1989 Tim Burton Batman adaptation stopped the destruction of the Bacon painting “Figure with Meat”, saying, “I kinda like this one, Bob. Leave it.” When one of Gotham’s most dangerous villains is a fan of a piece, you know it’s going to be something sinister.

Figure with Meat

Figure with Meat

His works, which changed from decade to decade, have been hailed as grotesque and visionary, with art critic John Russell even going so far as to say, “…there was painting in England before the Three Studies, and painting after them, and no one…can confuse the two. [Source]” The “Three Studies” to which Russell refers to is the 1944 triptych known as “Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion”. Based upon the Greek figures of the Erinyes, aka “the Furies”, the painting shows three figures each on their own panel, each appearing distorted and deformed. Their bodies are alien-shaped and they appear to be in a state of distress and agony, the burnt orange background almost like the flames of some Hellish location they are bound to.

The painting was a landmark moment for Bacon and catapulted him to fame. Such was his joy and satisfaction with this piece that he demanded that all works prior to this be stricken from his career, demanding that any retrospective not include his early efforts, many of which he personally destroyed.

Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion

Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion

As the years went on, Bacon continued his triptych series as well as several singular paintings, many of them gruesome and uncomfortable to look at. In the 60’s and early 70’s, Bacon developed a relationship with George Dyer, which was passionate, energetic, and ultimately tragic. Dyer became an alcoholic and fell into spirals of depression, culminating in his suicide in October of 1971. His death was the inspiration for many later Bacon works, which are known as the “Black Triptychs”.

Bacon himself lived to the age of 82. He died while traveling in Spain of a cardiac arrest brought about by a respiratory condition. Since then, his art has only grown in esteem and the appreciation for his works increases daily. He brought a harsh, terrifying vision of reality that spoke to people, challenging their view of what the world had to offer…and what it already gave us.


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