Subjects and influences

Source material from Francis Bacon’s studio

The exhibition includes a selection of material from Bacon’s studio at 7 Reece Mews, London, where he lived and worked from 1961 until his death. After Bacon’s death, the studio remained largely untouched until 1998 when his sole heir, John Edwards, presented it to Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane where it was faithfully reconstructed and opened to the public in 2001.

An inveterate hoarder of pictorial material, Bacon eventually accumulated more than 7500 items in his studio, including books, magazines, newspapers, photographs, drawings, handwritten notes, destroyed canvases and artists’ materials. Of this cluttered mess he said: ‘I feel at home here in this chaos because chaos suggests images.’ In this disorder, he may have seen accidental juxtapositions – photographs of himself, his friends and lovers became mixed in with images from mass media, and of animals, old master paintings and film stills.

Issue for consideration

  • What is your working style when creating a body of work? Do you plan carefully or is your approach more chaotic? Does time management play a role? Where do you feel most inspired? Create a series of works based on images of your art-making space.

Friends and lovers

Bacon painted many portraits of his close friends and lovers. From the 1960s onwards these were typically based on photographs he commissioned from John Deakin. Bacon often directed these photographs in order to obtain the poses that would best suit the paintings he had in mind.

Presented in a case in the exhibition are images of Reinhard Hassert and Eddy Batache, John Edwards, Bacon’s close companion from the 1970s until his death, and French intellectual Michel Leiris as well as Isabel Rawsthorne, a set designer with art-world connections, artist Lucian Freud and bon vivant and beauty Henrietta Moraes.

Issues for consideration

  • Create a portrait of a friend. Do you think it is a help or hindrance to know your subject personally?
  • Although he used photographs as sources for paintings, Bacon downplayed their significance, saying ‘It’s easier for me to work from these records than from the people themselves; that way I can work alone and feel much freer… These photographs were my aide-memoire, they helped me convey certain features, certain details.’ Do you prefer to work from photographs or from real life? Outline your rationale in a statement to accompany the portrait you created.

Artist as subject

While Bacon once claimed that he ‘loathed’ his own face, he kept many images of himself in his studio. Some were taken by friends or professional photographers in his colourful and chaotic studio while others were casual self-portraits taken in photo booths. According to Bacon, he used photographs as a reference for self-portraits but he also looked in the mirror.

Issue for consideration

  • The self-portrait is a common theme that artists have explored throughout history. Collect examples from various artists and periods. What are the similarities and differences when compared to Bacon’s approach?

Mass media and popular culture

A case in the exhibition includes items drawn largely from magazines, newspapers and books. They range from a photograph of hands gripping a golf club, to a bullfight and a still from Alain Resnais’ 1959 film Hiroshima mon amour. Pinned to a piece of card, this image informed some of Bacon’s paintings of Henrietta Moraes. The diverse mix of popular and fine art references in his studio demonstrates what Bacon himself once said: ‘I’m influenced by anything. I can be influenced by a news photograph or some photo I find in a magazine as much as I can be influenced by a Velásquez’.

Issue for consideration

  • What do you collect? What makes these objects significant? Research examples of public art collections in galleries, including how they started. How do these public collections compare to personal art collections?

Velázquez, Michelangelo, Raphael and Courbet

Bacon was influenced by particular artists and images from art history. A case in the exhibition presents some of his main touchstones, including reproductions of drawings by Raphael and Michelangelo, and Velázquez’s 17th-century painting Pope Innocent X. Bacon said of this painting: ‘I’ve always thought this was one of the greatest paintings in the world and I’ve had a crush on it.’ As in the reproduction here, Bacon’s creasing and folding of photographs and images from books informed his distortions of his portraits and figures.

Issue for consideration

  • Bacon collected sensual drawings of bodies by Italian Renaissance artist Michelangelo, which he said taught him about the voluptuousness of the male form. Research the work of Michelangelo, and compare and contrast his and Bacon’s approaches to the male form. Are there any artists or images from art history that have a particularly strong influence on your art practice?

Artists and other forces

A case in the exhibition presents reproductions of Bacon’s own works as well as those of other 20th-century artists including Pablo Picasso’s Still life with chair caning 1912. In the 1920s, Bacon saw an exhibition of Picasso’s work which inspired him to paint. There is also an image of German artist Joseph Beuys and one of Marcel Duchamp’s Paris apartment which Bacon has folded to isolate the celebrated double-opening door. Bacon used this modified image as the model for the ‘doors’ in the outer panels of Triptych – studies from the human body 1970.

Other items are pages torn from Phenomena of materialisation, a book that purported to show ghostly, ectoplasmic forms; sensual nudes held together with paperclips; and images featuring motifs he used in his work such as the crouching nude and which he refers to in a note in this case.

Issue for consideration

  • Create a timeline of 20th-century artists you feel have made a significant contribution to art. Find evidence in this exhibition and in other sources to identify artists that influenced Bacon. Have any of these artists also influenced your art-making in any way?

Australian connections

Australia and Australians had a significant role in Bacon’s life, although he never visited the country (a planned trip in the 1980s was cancelled due to illness). His father was Australian and it was an Australian painter living in London – Roy de Maistre – who suggested in 1930 that Bacon take up painting. Bacon was then working as a furniture designer, and some of his most important furniture commissions were also due to de Maistre (including a desk he produced for the author Patrick White).

Australian artist Brett Whiteley was hugely influenced by Bacon. The two artists met when Whiteley was living in London in the 1960s and the friendship continued over the years. Bacon owned a Whiteley work and Whiteley produced several portraits of Bacon (one of which is in the exhibition). Coincidentally, both artists died in the same year: 1992.

Issues for consideration