Rembrandt Harmenzoon van Rijn (15th July 1606 – 4th October 1969) is considered one of the greatest painters of all time. He’s celebrated for striking portraits, masterful compositions and a skilful use of light as a stylistic means.
Francis Bacon was hesitant to name contemporary influences on his art but gladly admitted to the impact of ‘Old Masters’ such as Velázquez, Michelangelo and, notably, Rembrandt. His appreciation of the Dutch painter was consistent throughout his career but highly selective in its focus.
Rembrandt’s influence can be subtly seen throughout Francis Bacon’s oeuvre. Most prominent, however, are the Dutch icon’s influence on Bacon’s self-portraits.
‘The self-portraits from the end of his life are superb. […] The way in which it’s always Rembrandt that you see, in an image which changes each time, it’s really astonishing, magnificent.’ Francis Bacon in Conversation with Michel Archimbaud, 1933.
As noted by Martin Harrison, with Bacon’s own self-portraits, beginning with Self-Portrait, 1956, to his last, unfinished painting ‘Self-Portrait’, 1991-92, Bacon set out on a similar mission to reproduce his own evolving appearance and the passage of time.
Rembrandt’s influence can be found in Bacon’s paint application, too. The use of materials in Woman Bathing by a Stream, 1654, is directly comparable to Bacon’s regular thick impasto. Bacon especially commended Rembrandt’s ability to create likeness with abstract paint marks, as he explained using Self-Portrait with Beret, c.1659 as an example: because ‘if you analyse it, you will see that there are hardly any sockets to the eyes, that it is almost completely anti-illustrational, […] the mystery of fact is conveyed by an image being made out of non-rational marks.’
Bacon’s interpretation of these ‘non-rational marks’ can be seen in Miss Muriel Belcher, 1959, in which a sweeping, pronounced brushstroke of dry white paint completes the cheek of the subject without referencing any anatomical characteristics.
Learn more about the influence of Rembrandt van Rijn on Francis Bacon via The Estate of Francis Bacon website.