Pablo Picasso’s impact on Francis Bacon’s work is undeniable and very well-documented art-historically.
Bacon stated often in interviews that seeing a Picasso exhibition at the Chez Paul Rosenburg gallery in Paris in 1927 triggered his desire to become a painter, although it would be several years before he acted on this desire. An early example of the Spanish painter’s influence surfaced in Bacon’s Crucifixion, 1933.
Crucifixion is the first surviving Bacon painting which contains a demonstrable link to Picasso’s paintings of bathers, completed in Cannes and Dinard between 1927 and 1932, which Bacon so vocally admired. These paintings initially struck Bacon as profoundly non-illustrative (illustration being a dirty word in Bacon’s lexicon) and the Spaniard’s figures became pivotal to Bacon’s use of shape.
Whilst eagerly absorbing the work of Picasso, Bacon felt unable to uncouple himself from the great painter’s influence and to create truly independent work, a frustration which perhaps led to his temporary decision to retire from painting between 1937 and 1943.
Following this time away he returned to painting once again and in this time produced his breakthrough work, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion. Within this canvas the linear biomorphs, with their elongated tubular necks and bulging bodies are evocative of works such as Picasso’s Figures at the Seaside, 1931.
In the period following 1944, Picasso’s pronounced influence on Bacon’s work seemed to dissipate as he developed a more painterly approach, discernible in Painting 1946, and further still in 1949 when Bacon fully committed to the human figure as his main subject. However, reference to Picasso did continue to be prevalent throughout Bacon’s career. This can be seen in his repeated return to Picasso’s motif of the key turning in a door, evident in Three Studies of Isabel Rawsthorne, 1967.