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Francis Bacon Tuesday, February 3, 2009

This February, the Museo del Prado will be opening a major exhibition on Francis Bacon (1909-1992). Intended to coincide with the centenary of the artist’s birth, it has been organised by Tate Britain in London, where it is currently on view, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, where it will be shown after Madrid. In contrast to London and New York, where Bacon’s work has been regularly shown over the last 40 years, the artist has only been the subject of one interesting but relatively small exhibition in Madrid consisting of 17 new works of the time, shown at the Fundación Juan March in 1978. For this reason the present event is of particular significance to Madrid and also constitutes a unique and heartfelt homage to Bacon, who regularly visited the Prado in the last years of his life and who died in Madrid on 28 April 1992.

Francis Bacon

Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X. Oil on canvas, 153 x 118 cm. 1953. Des Moines, Nathan Emory Coffin Collection of the Des Moines Arts Center, purchased with funds from the Coffin Fine Arts Trust

As at Tate Britain, the Prado version will include a selection of 78 paintings, including unique works and fifteen of his most important triptychs, in addition to an important body of documentary material from his studio that reveals and analyses the sources of his compositions and his most fundamental ideas. While the differences in the selection of works at the three venues is minimal and fundamentally relates to conservation reasons that have led to a few works only being shown in their place of origin, the Prado will be the only museum of the three to show a large triptych of 1984 from a private collection.

The Museo del Prado’s involvement in this project indicates its desire to pay homage to one of the great creative figures of the 20th century, whose starting-point was closely related to some of the great Spanish classical masters such as Velázquez and Goya, as well as Picasso. According to Bacon, it was Picasso’s work that first prompted him to take the definitive decision to become an artist. As an example of this relationship, the exhibition will include the canvases inspired by Velázquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X and which, according to Bacon, marked his first significant step forward in painting. In addition to these variations, the other outstandingly important works to be displayed include the Crucifixion triptychs, Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne in Soho, the triptychs in homage to George Dyer, the triptych inspired by a poem by T.S. Eliot, and Triptych of 1991 with the artist’s self-portrait.

While other previous exhibitions on Bacon focused on his more recent work or on the presentation of his most important themes, none has achieved the comprehensive nature of the present one that celebrates his centenary, nor did they offer a comparable chance to appreciate his work from the vantage point of the fifteen years that have passed since his death. In addition, the last few years have seen numerous contributions to our knowledge of his life and work with the discovery of new and conclusive sources for his compositions that have come to light following the organisation of the huge body of graphic and bibliographical material that was previously in his studio, as well as the rigorous research and scholarship that has been undertaken on Bacon’s oeuvre during these years.

The exhibition opens with the artist’s early years at the start of his career around 1946-1949 and ends with the last phase of his life in 1991. It is organised into various sections that aim to present his obsessive interests over succeeding periods and to offer a precise and dispassionate vision of his wide-ranging artistic interests. Under the headings of Animal Nature, Anxieties, Crucifixion, Crisis, Portrait, and Epic, these sections bring together some of Bacon’s most profound and shocking compositions. A number of his themes, such as the passing of time, death and the fragility of human nature in its corporal aspect, violence, sex, friendship and isolation are to be found in this exhibition, which also reveals the outstanding quality and technical mastery of the work of Francis Bacon, who was undoubtedly one of the great painters of western art.

The collaboration and generosity of an exceptional number of leading European and north American museums, as well as numerous private collectors who still own many of his most important works, have made it possible for the organisers to include only works of the highest quality, with a focus on those considered to best illustrate the artist’s ideas. In addition, the Bacon Estate, which looks after the artist’s intellectual and artistic property rights, has made a vital contribution to the organisation of this exhibition as the Estate considers it to be of genuine significance on an international level for a better understanding and appreciation of the undoubted stature of this painter.