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."





Figure and Movement


"Michelangelo and Muybridge are mixed up in my mind together, and so I perhaps could learn about positions from Muybridge and learn about the ampleness, the grandeur of form from Michelangelo. ... As most of my figures are taken from the male nude, I am sure that I have been influenced by the fact that Michelangelo made the most voluptuous male nudes in the plastic arts." Bacon here describes two of the sources from which his work derives. It is not so much the representation of movement itself in Muybridge that interests him as a certain sense of ritualized action that the poses convey. Similarly, it is not simply the imposing muscular tension of Michelangelo's nude figures—their famous terribilita— that affects him. In contrast, the tension within Bacon's figures, so often in awkward or unlikely positions, is nervous and tentative. What he seeks to create on the canvas is a sense of the figure as the center of swirling energies—in its movement or in its own inner tension. And he conveys those energies through the traces of the moving hand that wields the paintbrush.


Figure in Movement

The circles, functioning like magnifying glasses on the foci of tension,
and the arrows that complete the basic directions of movement in an analytical fashion,
are two sources of dynamism in Bacon s canvases.
The fusion of two successive positions in a single figure, like a stroboscopic photograph,
has been a feature employed by painters since the time of the Futurists,
but it takes on a distinctive sense in Bacon.


Figure in Movement


Figure in Movement


Jet of Water

Bacon made pictures of water currents and sand dunes
whipped by the wind, seeking to reproduce their dynamic behavior materially,
through the very application of paint.
They constitute another attempt to re-create experience with immediacy.


Oedipus and the Sphinx


Oedipus and the Sphinx After Ingres


Sphinx II


Sphinx III



Man at Washbasin


Man Turning on the Light


Reclining Woman


Studies from the Human Body


Study for a Portrait


Figures in a street


Man carrying a Child


Study for Human Body


Study for Portrait on Folding Bed


Study of a Nude with Figure in a Mirror


Three Figures and Portrait


Three Figures, One with Shotgun


Figuras en movimiento


Figura tumbada en el espejo


Version Two of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe




Study for a Portrait with Bird in Flight


Walking Figure


Reclining Man with Sculpture


Female Nude Standing in a Doorway


Study for a Portrait


Figure in a Room


Portrait of a Dwarf


Lying Figure Nr. 3


Study for the Nurse in the film "Battleship Potemkin"

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