Francis Bacon: Man and Beast
Exhibition Review: The Royal Academy, 29 January - 17 April 2022.
Tickets £22–24.50. Concessions Available. Book tickets here.
[Disclosure: I attended this exhibition for free, for the purposes of this review.]
Francis Bacon (1909 – 1992), is one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century. Throughout his life, Bacon was fascinated by animals and animal behaviour.
He used animal behaviour as a yard stick against which to measure human behaviour; exploring what it means to be human.
Three Figures in a Room, 1964, Oil on canvas. Showing the reality of being human - the endless cycle of ingestion, sex, and excretion.
Despite being one of the most influential strands in his artistic philosophy, there has not, until now, been an exhibition which features this aspect of his thought process.
Study for Bullfight No. 1, 1969. Oil on canvas. Challenging a clear distinction between animal and human.
The Royal Academy’s Francis Bacon: Man and Beast exhibition is dedicated to uncovering the relationship between Bacon’s fascination with animal behaviour and his portraiture – of humans, animals and biomorphs.
Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus, 1981. Oil on canvas.
It is one of the most extraordinary exhibitions I’ve seen – helping audiences who are familiar with Bacon’s images to a much deeper understanding of his work.
Portrait of Francis Bacon's friend, Henrietta Moraes, 1966. Oil on canvas.
The exhibition is made up of 9 rooms that are both thematically and chronologically arranged – following different aspects of Bacon’s exploration, as his own life progressed, into the human condition through the lens of animal behaviour.
Two Figures in the Grass, 1954. Oil on canvas. After being mesmerised by seeing wild animals moving through the grass in southern Africa, he created paintings that placed naked human figures moving in grasslands.
The Royal Academy always puts on a beautiful show, but even by their own high standards, this show is especially gorgeous. Each room is painted a beautiful, jewel-like colour and displayed against this background, lit like precious gems, the paintings are luminous.
Room 8: Contains four spectacular triptychs painted by Bacon between 1964 - 1988.
Every room is spectacular, packed with master pieces and arranged and commentated in a way that brings each piece to life.
Three Figures and Portrait, 1975. Oil and pastel on canvas.
We see Bacon’s struggle to the conclusion that human life is ultimately futile; the only thing separating humans from animals being a thin veil of artifice – which disappears all too easily.
Head VI, 1949. One of Bacon's earliest surviving versions of Velásquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X. He painted almost 50 versions.
We see Bacon mourning for love lost to death – exploring our most private and terrifying fears.
Triptych August 1972. Oil and sand on canvas. Bacon finished this triptych a year after his companion, George Dyer, died. He painted a series of these triptychs as a memorial as well as a way to express his grief and fear.
And, toward the end of his life, we see a sparer, more restrained aesthetic and an acceptance that the only thing that is permanent is dust
Study of a Bull, 1991. Oil, aerosol paint and dust on canvas. This is Bacon's final painting into which he incorporates dust as being the, "one thing that lasts forever". You can see the dust in the detail of the painting below.
This is a beautiful, deeply sad and moving exhibition.
Other than the feature photo, I took all photographs with my iPhone on press day on 25 January 2022.