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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.’ (…)