In this article we take a deeper look at the biography of artist and set designer Isabel Rawsthorne, one of Bacon’s closest female friends and the subject of a number of his paintings.
Rawsthorne’s unconventional beauty seems to have captured Bacon’s imagination, and along with Henrietta Moraes, she became one of his favourite models. He produced several stunning portraits of Rawsthorne, some of which were based on the photographs of John Deakin.
Bacon’s first painting of Isabel Rawsthorne was Study for Portrait (Isabel Rawsthorne), 1964, although it may be more accurate to say it is the earliest in which she was named, or is readily identifiable. It is unlike any other of Bacon’s paintings of this period, but the simplicity of its conception, the dominant pink floor and black walls, are particularly successful. In general he did not distort Rawsthorne’s features to the same degree as most of his sitters. That may be the case with this painting, which is not to say that it is a straightforward representation: the rolled-up sleeves, for example, were usually reserved for Bacon’s self-portraits, or portraits of Lucian Freud.
Excerpt: Martin Harrison, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné (London: The Estate of Francis Bacon Publishing, 2016 p. 766.
As described in Out of the Cage: The Art of Isabel Rawsthorne, a biography by Carol Jacobi, Rawsthorne’s own painting career was somewhat eclipsed by the many occasions on which her friends made her the subject of their art, notably Jacob Epstein, André Derain, Alberto Giacometti, Pablo Picasso and Francis Bacon. Exhibited from the early 1930s, her startling work first garnered serious attention in the 1940s and she was well-known in the 1950s and 1960s; but after she died, popular biographies of Giacometti and Bacon cemented her status not as an artist, but as an artist’s muse.
Isabel Rawsthorne died in January 1992, just three months before Bacon.
Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné can be purchased through our distributor’s website.
Out of the Cage: The Art of Isabel Rawsthorne can be purchased here.