Art of the 20th Century


Art Styles in 20th century Art Map






Francis Bacon (1909-1992), arguably the preeminent British painter of the twentieth century, was also for forty years the most controversial. Bacon's art often appears deliberately disturbing. His subject was the human form. Bacon reinterpreted the physical construction of the body with a new and unsettling intensity. To him it was something to be taken apart by the artist's penetrating gaze and then put back together again on canvas. He forces us to see, perhaps for the first time, the separate shapes and stresses hidden in the familiar human figure.

Bacon's treatment of the face could be especially challenging. In his portraits, generally of people the artist knew well, the subjects are sometimes shown screaming. Even in repose the features shift and reshape themselves before our eyes, yet they never become unrecognizable despite the swirling paint.

Often called an Expressionist or even a Surrealist, Bacon himself strongly rejected both labels. He insisted that in its own way his work was close to the world we see every day, remaining true to what he called "the brutality of fact."





Violated Flesh


Bacon understood his figures as coming into being through a kind of creative violence; they were made manifest through his vigorous physical manipulation of the paint with his own hands. That material violence remains imprinted in what is depicted, in such a way that Bacon's figures appear as a turbulent mass of lacerated, wounded, tense flesh. In this respect even his paintings of the butchered carcasses of animals should not surprise the viewer; not only are they a natural outgrowth of his concern with the flesh-and-blood actuality of the body, but such depictions have a long history in art, as in some of the canvases of Rembrandt and other Dutch painters of the seventeenth century.

Equally important in Bacon's treatment of the body was the use of some photographs by Eadweard Muybridge that analyzed movement through sequential images of wrestlers. Bacon transformed those detached, frozen scenes into violently carnal confrontations, exploiting all their potential for aggressive, orgiastic combat.


Three Studies of figures on Beds

The figures struggling on the bed derive from Eadweard Muybridge's photographs of wrestlers.
Their contorted positions constitute the canvas's whole substance,
to the point where it is almost impossible to distinguish one body from another:
we see a single mass of flesh whose muscular torsion
is reinforced,
with the coldness of a diagram, by the circles and arrows superimposed by the painter.


Three Studies of figures on Beds


Three Studies of figures on Beds


Head Surrounded by Sides of Beef



This macabre picture, in which a terrifying figure with clerical garb sits in the midst
of a scene of slaughter, was one of the works that brought international recognition to Bacon,
when it was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1948.
The umbrella motif, repeated in other works of this period,
is the forerunner of the linear prisms that later delimit the space around the figure.
Twenty-five years later, Bacon returned to the same theme,
although the figure now wears a business suit and a raincoat,
and the artist's palette is brighter.


Carcass and Bird of Prey


At a late date, Bacon again presents us with an image of butchered meat.
And in a depiction based on the earlier use of X-ray pictures,
the bird of prey is shown with afleshless skull.




Blood on the Floor: Painting
 Bacon always wanted his paintings to assume the material identity
of what they depicted, in the most direct form possible.
The drops of paint used to create the bloodstain,
as though someone had actually bled on the canvas,
are a good example of how Bacon sometimes initiated his images,
and suggest how his concept of representation is to be understood.


Sand Dune


Sand Dune


Two Figures

One of the first appearances of Muybridge's wrestlers.
By changing the figures' setting, Bacon has changed the athletic
struggle of the original photograph into a passionate,
even violent sexual encounter.


Study for a Nude


Hombre con Perro


Man at Curtain


Man Kneeling in Grass


Two Figures in the Grass


Two Figures in the Grass


Study for a Figure in Landscape


Study from the Human Body


Portrait I


Portrait II

Portrait III

Portrait IV



Head III


Head IV


Portrait of Man with Glasses III


Study of a Nude


Study of the Human Body


Study of the Human Body


Two Figures in a Room






Study of a Baboon


Study of a Dog





Elephant Fording a River Study for a Crouching Nude

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