Thirty years after Francis Bacon’s death, there is still more to be discovered about the painter’s working process. In a video published this month, Katharina Günther introduces her extensive research into Francis Bacon's use of photographic sources.
Her work at the Francis Bacon Studio Archive at Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin, sheds light on the genesis of his works, namely the photographic source material he collected in his studios, on which he consistently based his paintings.
Bacon commissioned new photographs of friends, lovers and muses such as Henrietta Moraes and George Dyer to use as material for paintings.
In about 1964 Bacon commissioned John Deakin to take a series of photographs of George Dyer in his Reece Mews studio, nude apart from his underpants, some in standing positions others seated on a folding, wooden chair. The resulting images were important references for the ten paintings of Dyer that Bacon began in 1966 and completed in 1968: Portrait of George Dyer Talking was the third in the series.
Excerpt: Martin Harrison, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné (London: The Estate of Francis Bacon Publishing, 2016 p. 812).
Bacon once told friend and art critic David Sylvester that he preferred working from photographs rather than the subjects themselves, as:
“I find it less inhibiting to work from them through memory and their photographs than actually having them seated there before me.”
Excerpt: David Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon (Thames and Hudson 2016 p. 45).
However, even as the appearance of the photographic material was altered through decay, Bacon continued to use photographs as inspiration for his portraits. As Katharina explains:
Accidental alterations of the material caused by decay and exposure to the working process, such as abrasion and paint spatters, and targeted manipulations such as folds, allowed Bacon to grasp the figure and practice its metamorphosis. Those alterations often directly determined the appearance of a subject on the canvas.
Katharina's full PhD research is available in her book Francis Bacon – In the Mirror of Photography. Collecting, Preparatory Practice and Painting, published by De Gruyter in May 2022.
The book brings together the artist’s pictorial springboards for the first time, delineating and interpreting recurring patterns and methods in his preparatory work and adoption of photographic material. In addition, it correctly locates ‘chance’ as a driving force in Bacon’s working method and qualifies the significance of photography for the painter.
Watch the video in full here.