From the Archives
View All By
Contributions by Lawrence Alloway and Thomas M. Messer
Published in 1963
80 pages, fully illustrated
This catalogue accompanied the first American museum retrospective of the English artist Francis Bacon. In his essay, Senior Curator Lawrence Alloway explores the essence of Bacon's painting beyond the usual associations with the grotesque. Instead, he offers a different argument: Bacon was a realist painter of his time, closely tied into the Grand Manner and painters such as Manet, Van Gogh, Velasquez, and Titian. Bacon continued and evolved the central tradition of European figure painting at a time when abstraction was dominating the art world. Also included are an exhibition checklist, 64 color and black-and-white reproductions, and a bibliography.
The imagery of form in motion becomes metaphoric of the way time, in longer periods, destroys bodies. Bacon's figures are represented in action, but, also, as subject to accelerations of time's process. Through motion studies, Bacon arrives at an imagery of death. In the small paintings of heads, his free handling identifies the paint with human flesh, which seems to be separating from the head and admitting sight of the skull. Death is, for Bacon, the point of reality which gives meaning to everything else; his grotesque imagery, therefore, leads directly to his sense of the factual. Erich Auerbach has pointed out that 'in the 19th century the word "realism" was associated chiefly with the crass representation of ugly, sordid, and horrifying aspects of life.' Bacon, who has certainly inherited this association, can be, simultaneously, grotesque and realistic.