• News Retrospective

    Retrospective: Six Degrees of Francis Bacon

    And other excerpts from our coverage 100, 75, 50, and 25 years ago

    100 Years Ago

    Daphne Allen, the 14-year-old child, whose drawings and watercolors exhibit such an extraordinary power of imagination and felicity of expression, is holding her second exhibition at the Dudley Galleries. This surprisingly prolific young artist, is remarkable in that she seems to realize instinctively exactly what is required from the illustrator of children’s books and shows no tendency to stretch the scope of her art beyond its appropriate limits. Her mastery of color is as yet hardly developed, although her work in sepia is astonishingly mature. She has been likened to Fra Angelico for her simplicity and evident sincerity of expression, and although this may be somewhat florid “journalese,” there is actually something in her work which recalls the great Florentine.

    —“London Letter,” by L. G.-S., October 25, 1913

    75 Years Ago

    A solitary figure who followed his own precepts while the storms of successive art movements raged around him, Rouault developed a language of forms which served to express, on the one hand, his bitter condemnation of the creatures of society—the pathetic clown and those monsters of man’s creation: the brazen prostitute and the corrupt lawyer. On the other hand, it served to express Rouault’s melancholy belief in suffering—which he has protested is unfeigned—and his ardent search for a spiritual haven. Passion and asceticism are twin dynamos in his prints, as they are in his better known paintings.

    —“Rouault as Master of Graphic Art,” by Martha Davidson, October 8, 1938

    50 Years Ago

    7 Reece Mews Francis Bacon Studio. PHOTOGRAPH: PERRY OGDEN. COLLECTION:  DUBLIN CITY GALLERY THE HUGH LANE. ©THE ESTATE OF FRANCIS BACON. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, DACS.

    Francis Bacon’s Studio at 7 Reece Mews.

    PHOTOGRAPH: PERRY OGDEN. COLLECTION: DUBLIN CITY GALLERY THE HUGH LANE. ©THE ESTATE OF FRANCIS BACON. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, DACS.

    Every new phase in Francis Bacon’s development has carried with it a sense of shock. Nothing prepares one for his most recent pictures and each change in style is like a painful rediscovery of what his art is about.

    I find myself thinking of the impact of the first pictures of his that I saw, the screaming curtain-heads of 1949.

    All I could see was his arrogant claim to the expression of the seventeenth century without its body, his deviation, his denial of anything that I had understood to be the essence of modern art. I had no model, in modern terms, for this annihilation of the picture-plane or for this loose-knit, brush-conscious chiaroscuro. The images were impossible and violated every taboo that existed in English painting. Not only were they figurative and illusionistic at a time when the drift was inexorably towards abstract art and even the most convinced figurative painters were obsessed with the flat surface, but they dealt with the human head in terms of its features, its grimaces and gestures…

    They were modern in a way that modern art was not. This was the magnet round which one’s attention guiltily circled. He suggested a completely new relationship between art and life and he assaulted esthetic shame. I am not thinking of the mood or temper of his subject matter, which was of course immediately taken up as some sort of illustration to the world of Buchenwald of Huis Clos. I am thinking rather of the way that he asserted subject matter, and of the total and reckless way in which his human stance was incorporated in the material of his work. He called into question the strongest tradition of modern art, the lyrical tradition that comes down to us from Batignolles and takes the painter out before breakfast looking for something to paint, argues that there is no hierarchy of subject matter, that any convinced study of anything can be fully revealing in a human sense and that an apple is no more and no less highly charged than a face. Abstract art (in England, at any rate) can be seen as the last emasculate resting point of this fallacious tradition and almost all present painting in England derives from it. Every mark that Bacon makes is opposed to it. In a sense his art is epic and hierarchical. Ambition is reflected in every aspect of it.

    —“Bacon: The paint of screams,” by Andrew Forge, October 1963

    25 Years Ago

    In the old days, the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, and Whitneys established museums and kept them going with money out of pocket. Today, it’s up to the trustees. Joseph V. Noble, director emeritus of the Museum of the City of New York and former vice-director for administration for the Metropolitan, has an axiom of trusteeship that he calls the Three Gs: “A trustee is expected to give money. A trustee, by using political and social muscle, is expected to get money. If a trustee can’t do one or the other, then it’s time to get off the board and let someone else sit.”

    —“What Price Glory?,” by Paul Gardner, October 1988

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