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Francis Bacon: Prado Centennial (2009)

Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. 03 February 2009-19 April 2009

Essay by Manuela Mena

Extract translated from Spanish


Francis Bacon died in Madrid on April 28, 1992 and was incinerated the following day in the prosaic cemetery of La Almudena, without any witness or ceremony. The Way to Dusty Death brings him to the same city where Velázquez died. Surely, he would have liked this coincidence, which seemed like a voluntary homage to the Spanish painter: or was it intentional? Macbeth impressed him with ‘his famous lines about death and the shortness of life, about the passing of time and then nothing makes any sense at all’ and this also reflected his own vision of man; he is nothing but an accident of life, a ‘completely futile being that has to play out the game without reason.’

The concept of Shakespeare on the shortness and vanity of life and the inexorability of death also filled the Spanish culture of the 18th century at the time of Velázquez.

Therefore, as Bacon admitted, there were still ‘a certain type of religious possibilities’ to which man could hold on to, but now in the 20th century, ‘has had completely cancelled out for him.’ The same idea had been expressed by a contemporary of Bacon, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian whose writings Bacon most certainly knew: ‘We are moving towards a completely religionless time; people as they are now simply cannot be religious any more.’ With everything, Bacon wanted to fill the futile and gratuitous journey towards death with a ‘certain grandeur’–in this case with his art. He always considered life, this journey between birth and death, like ‘an unbearable idea’ and endeavoured to throw himself into an activity, which would give ‘a sense to this pointless existence.’ (…)

33-01 Crucifixion, 1933 44-01 Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, 1944 45-05 Figure in a Landscape, 1945 46-01 Figure Study I, 1945 - 1946 46-02 Figure Study II, 1945 - 1946 48-01 Head I, 1948 49-01 Head II, 1949 49-07 Head VI, 1949 49-08 Study from the Human Body, 1949 50-02 Fragment of a Crucifixion, 1950 50-04 Study after Velázquez, 1950 51-05 Pope I, 1951 52-01 Study for Crouching Nude, 1952 52-03 Dog, 1952 53-01 Study of a Nude, 1952 - 1953 53-02 Study after Velázquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X, 1953 53-03 Study for a Portrait, 1953 53-06 Man with Dog, 1953 53-17 Study of a Baboon, 1953 53-29 Study for a Portrait, 1953 54-08 Man in Blue IV, 1954 54-09 Man in Blue V, 1954 55-02 Study for Portrait II (after the Life Mask of William Blake), 1955 55-08 Chimpanzee, 1955 56-10 Figure in Mountain Landscape, 1956 56-11 'Figures in a Landscape', 1956 57-01 Figures in a Landscape, 1956 - 1957 57-08 Study for the Nurse in the film Battleship Potemkin, 1957 57-14 Study for Portrait of Van Gogh VI, 1957 61-04 Paralytic Child Walking on all Fours (from Muybridge), 1961 62-04 Three Studies for a Crucifixion, 1962 63-06 Landscape near Malabata, Tangier, 1963 63-15 Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer, 1963 64-10 Three Figures in a Room, 1964 65-01 Crucifixion, 1965 65-03 Study from Portrait of Pope Innocent X, 1965 66-03 Henrietta Moraes, 1966 66-10 Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne, 1966 66-15 Portrait of George Dyer Riding a Bicycle, 1966 67-06 Study for Head of George Dyer, 1967 67-14 Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne Standing in a Street in Soho, 1967 67-16 Triptych, 1967 68-05 Portrait of George Dyer in a Mirror, 1968 68-07 Two Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer, 1968 69-03 Lying Figure, 1969 69-10 Three Studies for Portraits (including Self-Portrait), 1969 71-09 In Memory of George Dyer, 1971 72-07 Triptych August 1972, 1972 73-10 Self-Portrait, 1973 79-09 Three Studies for Self-Portrait, 1979 81-03 Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus, 1981 81-05 Study from the Human Body, 1981 83-07 Triptych, 1983 84-04 'Blood on Pavement', 1984 85-03 Figure in Movement, 1985 87-05 Triptych, 1987 88-05 Second Version of Triptych 1944, 1988 88-06 Portrait of John Edwards, 1988 91-02 Triptych, 1991