Francis Bacon (1909-1992) is one of the key artists of the post-war era. He holds a unique position in the European painting tradition due to his strong, personal and subjective form of expression that combines figuration with elements of abstraction, expressionism and surrealism. Bacon’s unsettling figures recall painterly masters such as Velàzques, Rembrandt and Goya, at the same time as his level of abstraction reveals a relation to pioneers of modernism such as Picasso and Matisse.
For the exhibition, Gagosian has loaned the work Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus (1981) from the Astrup Fearnley Collection. The work, from Bacon’s later period, refers to one of the most violent and bloody dramas in Classical literature. This tragedy, which contains the key elements of revenge, sacrifice and murder, unfolds around a number of fateful episodes that have caused the family of King Agamemnon to be cursed.
The Oresteia of Aeschylus made a strong impression on Bacon, especially one particular phrase: The reek of human blood smiles out at me. Bacon did not want to retell the story as a history painting depicting the main protagonists. He claimed instead that he tried to recreate the pictures that came to his mind after reading the story. Hence he sought to recreate the effect that the story had on him, simultaneously as the pictures contain fragments of the myth, or allusions to it. Given how the pictures do not coherently follow the Orestia’s narrative, we can interpret them in many ways.
The stage-like pictorial space, the cage-like constructions in the side panels and the tendency towards deformation and disintegration in the anthropomorphic figures are all characteristic elements in Bacon’s paintings. The work is a triptych, a three-part format associated with altarpieces and crucifixion compositions. Bacon often used the triptych format because he liked the narrative resistance that emerged through it: the series is broken up and prevented from having only one story to tell. Bacon also framed the three pictures separately.
In addition to the loan from the Astrup Fearnley Collection the exhibition also includes important loans from international museums and private collections including Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel; Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; Museum of Modern Art, New York and Tate, London. Accompanying the exhibition is a fully illustrated catalogue with new texts, interviews and photographs of Bacon in his later years.
Francis Bacon: Late Paintings lasts from 7 November to 12 December, 2015. Read more about the exhibition at Gagosian's website.