Three Figures in a Room, 1964
Head VI, 1949
In the middle of the exhibition, I wondered if Francis Bacon could paint. The obvious answer is yes, but it’s also a less obvious answer when you look at his beginnings. Bacon was self-taught, and he worked with a lot of art historical images. Taking images like Velasquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X, Bacon ripped apart and painted these images again and again. And he kept doing ‘studies’ as if he was merely practicing. I rather think he was. He said later in his life that he wished he hadn’t wasted so much of his youth in gaming and drinking because it had kept him from his painting. When I got to the last room of the chronological exhibition, I saw what he meant. Here were some beautiful works. Paintings that made me stop in my tracks.
Jet of Water, 1988
In his later paintings, done when the artist was in his 80s, you still see the amazing use of color with no fear and more balance that you might suspect. His composition, which for the most part had always been sophisticated–if only because he was aping the greats to get it–becomes sparser, apparently influenced by Modernism. In some ways, Bacon was both an early and a late bloomer. He was talented and always created stunning works in a visual vocabulary distinctly his own (perhaps his distinctiveness came not only from a unique outlook but a self-created technique) yet later he grew into a really accomplished painter as well.
Blood on Pavement, 1988