‘The mouth’ paintings evolved during the 1940’s. The work entitled “Painting 1946” has a dark figure whose jaw and mouth emerge from the adumbration of an umbrella. A flayed carcass is behind, its limbs spread as if crucified. This, the first work by Bacon to be acquired by a museum, was purchased by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1949 and it seems to point the way to the ensuing works sometimes referred to as ‘Scream Paintings’ of heads, figures and Popes, in the 1950’s. “Study for Innocent X,” 1962, seems a culmination of these, being derived from a reproduction of the Velazquez portrait (widely regarded as one of the finest portraits ever painted). Interestingly, Bacon, though he spent two months in Rome, never visited the Galleria Doria-Pamphili to see the Velazquez painting. He said he probably feared seeing the original after he had tampered with it.
He needed only the reproduced image for his purposes. Bacon certainly preferred to work from photographs as a starting point, rather than with models, partly as he said because he thought that models would be upset by what he did to them.
There is a delicious painting called “Portrait of George Dyer riding a Bicycle,” 1966. Dyer’s face is turned to the viewer whilst surrounding it, a larger shadowy profile with a faint smile rides obliviously on. Dyer was Bacon’s lover, but their relationship was always tempestuous and in 1971 on the opening night of Bacon’s big retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris, Dyer committed suicide in his hotel room.
I met Francis Bacon at the Chelsea Arts Club, London, which he occasionally came to in the late 1970’s, and in the 1980’s I’d occasionally see him walking in Kensington where I lived. He would nod but we never spoke. That was good enough for me. I met Ronnie Spector of the Ronettes too, but that is, as they say, another story.
David Remfry’s artistic career spans more than 30 years. A figurative painter born and trained in England, he is now living in New York City.
Three postscripts: The Chelsea Arts Club was a smoky club founded in 1891 at James McNeil Whistler’s suggestion for artists and other reprobates. Two large snooker tables dominated the large bar with a beautiful garden outside. It still exists although is no longer smoky.
The club that most often found Bacon in residence was The Colony Room in Soho. Founded in 1948 by Muriel Belcher who managed to get a drinking license that allowed her to remain open when public houses were closed, this tiny green room was a home to many famous artists including Dublin-based Lisa Stansfield and Barry Flannagan. John Edwards, companion of Bacon for the last 16 years of his life and sole heir to the Estate, donated the contents of the Reece Mews Studio to The Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin where it was reconstructed as a permanent display in the gallery.
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